Accepted paper:

Toxic legacies? Memories of chemical spraying among former tobacco growers in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand


Andrew Russell (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

Former tobacco growers and workers in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand remember and reflect on the aerial- and ground-spraying methods for managing their crop.

Paper long abstract:

Among former tobacco growers in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand, moral ambivalence about their crop exists less in the nature of the crop itself, since it was always legal and frequently remunerative, and more in the chemicals (or 'poisons', as they are often called) used to manage its cultivation. Products abounded to sterilise the seedbed soil, to fertilise the ground, and to control the various plant and animal pests which, despite nicotine having evolved as a powerful insecticide in its own right, were quick to capitalise on a farmers' lack of protection in this regard. Most of these products are now banned, but they are remembered for the different and frequently dramatic ground and aerial means and times they were administered, and above all for their distinctive smells. Commercial cultivation of tobacco finished in 1995 (Aotearoa/New Zealand) and 2006 (Australia). As time passes, and due to the fact that the health legacy of these different noxious substances is a matter of risk and probability rather than definitive causation, concerns over their long-term legacy are only infrequently and speculatively voiced. When the issue is raised, it is more often in terms of the likely consequences of chemical residues for smokers' lungs rather than the dangers the products may have posed for tobacco workers themselves and their families. A restitution narrative is developing whereby the toxic legacy of these poisons is being replaced by a new ethos of organic farming methods free of chemical inputs.

panel B13
Adding to the Air