An Australian chemical manufacturer has rejected calls for a ban or tightening of restrictions around the use of a highly toxic herbicide which poisoned a young man with autism on the New South Wales Central Coast.
Damien Terry, 21, accidently drank the commercial weedkiller — known as paraquat — from a soft drink bottle he found in a disabled toilet at the Mangrove Mountain sports complex in August.
Doctors initially gave him about 12 hours to live but he "miraculously" recovered after two weeks in Gosford Hospital and his family now wants the deadly chemical banned.
Kendon Chemical is one of many Australian companies that use paraquat, an imported chemical, in their herbicide products.
Company says there are meant to be strict controls
Kendon's managing director Chris Storey has defended the safeguards around its use, provided all instructions are followed properly.
"There are controls — it's an S7 which means the poison must be kept under lock and key," he said.
Mr Storey also expressed surprise when he was told how easy it was for the ABC to get access to a large bottle of the substance.
"I'm surprised that happened — the reseller would have asked for a permit if the purchaser was not known to them," he said.
"To purchase it you need an agricultural chemical users permit for which you have had to do a day's training unless you're known to the seller.
"It has to contain an emetic, a stench agent and a blue dye. An emetic make you vomit and this gentleman who ingested the product from a coke bottle, mind you — he was vomiting … it obviously was working there and maybe that's why he survived."
Chemical banned in 30 countries
Paraquat has been under review for 20 years by the Australian regulator, with a determination due next year.
Mr Storey has acknowledged it was banned in more than 30 countries worldwide but is adamant Australia should not go down this path.
"I'm not sure the countries that have been banned have the broadacre farming we have here in Australia, noting that Australian agricultural grain growing is one of the most efficient in the world and these products help that efficiency," he said.
He has also rejected warnings by Newcastle University environmental contamination expert Professor Ravi Naidu that people should stay away from an area for between 15 to 20 days after being sprayed with the weedkiller.
"Paraquat breaks down when it's exposed to the dirt because it binds the clay very tightly … so 20 days — he doesn't know what he's talking about," he said.
"I wouldn't have children playing on it the same day.
"You'd wait until the next day because by that time it's been absorbed by the plant and or it's dripped into the dirt."
But he admitted it should only be used for commercial farming purposes — not in public areas.