A federal investigation has recommended that Victoria’s chief medical officer of health, Brett Sutton, meet with a local community concerned about a possible cluster of cancers linked to pesticide use.
Residents of the Bellarine Peninsula, southwest of Melbourne, believe a mosquito spraying program in the 1980s caused dozens of cancer and autoimmune disease cases in the area.
Many cases have occurred in people between the ages of 20 and 30 who attended Barwon Heads Primary School and Bellarine Secondary College in the nearby town of Drysdale.
But a 2019 survey by Professor Sutton found no evidence of a higher cancer rate in the Bellarine Peninsula compared to the rest of Australia.
An analysis of data from the Victorian Cancer Registry found no evidence of an increase in cancer rates among residents of the Bellarine Peninsula between 1982 and 2019, other than breast cancer.
For breast cancer, there was an estimated excess incidence of 24 percent over the Victorian average.
Pesticides were found in the soil tested in the area, but at levels below what is considered harmful to human health.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee, chaired by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, has spent nearly two years investigating residents’ concerns.
In its final report tabled Wednesday, the committee acknowledged the “suffering, stress and sadness” experienced by residents affected by cancer or autoimmune diseases.
“In a small town like Barwon Heads, every cancer or autoimmune diagnosis can affect the whole community,” the report says.
“It is understandable that people wonder why cancers and autoimmune diseases are occurring in their community, especially among young people.”
The committee said many community members were unhappy with the Victoria Department of Health’s investigation.
“In most, if not all, cases such investigations can only lead to disappointing results for people with cancer and their families and friends, who may seek answers that scientific investigation cannot provide.” , said the committee.
Senators recommended that the Victoria Department of Health prepare and publish a comprehensive report, which explains “clearly and carefully” the findings of their studies and addresses community concerns.
He also suggests that Professor Sutton meet with the community to answer all their questions.
“The community of Barwon Heads deserves the closure, and this can only be achieved through the active engagement of the Victoria Department of Health and the Chief Health Officer in effectively communicating all findings,” the committee said.
The committee also recommended that the state government review and update its mosquito management framework in Victoria.