Spot testing of Northland kiwifruit orchards for toxic chemical spray Hi-Cane

Newshub can reveal WorkSafe will conduct spot testing of Northland kiwifruit orchards over the use of a toxic chemical. 

The chemical spray, known as "Hi-Cane", is legal but locals claim it's not being contained and may be leading to serious health issues. 

The Regional Council has told Newshub it receives around 50 complaints of agri-chemical spraying each year.

Kerikeri resident John Levers has investigated the use of a chemical spray in Kerikeri for months.

"All spray drift will be going into this waterway. There's native fish in here, there's the long-finned eels - which are quite rare," he told Newshub.

Kiwifruit growers use the spray at this time of year so the fruit is ready to pick all at once.

Levers says the spray is drifting 'off' orchards.

"If it can't be grown safely then it shouldn't be grown at all," he says.

Local resident Leigh Bramwell is also fed up. She says when Hi-Cane is sprayed each year, it goes all over the place.

"We need to see some kind of monitoring, people to come along and make sure that spray drift is not getting into the water," she told Newshub.

In a number of countries, Hi-Cane is banned but it's legal in New Zealand under strict conditions.

Also known as Hydrogen Cyanamide, Hi-Cane was classified in the US as a low-grade carcinogen in 2014.

It has since been 'reclassified'.

"Animal studies have shown that it can cause cancer in animals, and it's possible it could cause cancer in humans - but that has never been 'proven'," says Canterbury University Toxicologist, Ian Shaw.

Guidelines by the Growers Association recommend spraying only take place within certain distances of roads, parks and waterways, and the use of high screens.

"They do know the rules but they also know they're not being policed," Levers says.

Levers showed Newshub a number of orchards weeks out from spraying, which he says have little or no protection.

There's no foliage in the middle of winter, meaning there's little to stop the spray-drift.

"One, there's no way the spray is going to be stopped by those trees. Two, you know there's children living down these roads, they could be walking to school, they could be spraying," says Levers.

Newshub arrived at an orchard two minutes out of Kerikeri, one that Levers says has implemented good practice.

Their setback shelters are around ten-metres high and off the property, ensuring none of that spray leaves the orchard.

However, WorkSafe has received complaints about the safety of orchard workers.

It has also noticed minimal shelter protections and is promising 'spot checks' later this year.

"From the visibility, I could achieve from the road in relation to the application of shelter belts to prevent spray drift or over-spray from going into neighbouring properties, it would appear to be unsatisfactory," says WorkSafe's chief inspector Darren Handforth.

Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated points out the shelter belts are only optional but promises to educate growers about the guidelines before spraying starts in the next few weeks.

"We take any complaint about spray drift or any request for information around kiwifruit spraying very seriously. We operate a spray complaint line, and we have initiated a number of communications around responsibilities" says Kiwifruit Growers Inc chief executive, Nikki Johnson.

Some growers are already trying alternatives to Hi-Cane. The industry body supports research to see if there is a replacement because it also wants to phase out Hi-Cane use completely.