December 2000 Investigate Magazine
Five years ago Laurie Newman was exposed to 2,4-D – a highly toxic fertiliser that was once produced at the Ivon Watkins Dow Plant in New Plymouth. Now the government.s own OSH department has linked the exposure to Newman later contracting Parkinsonism – a forerunner to Parkinson.s Disease
The advertisements in rural newspapers for a controversial pesticide provide an eerie link between their original use as a weapon of war and their use now: to control unwanted vegetation.The campaign, by Dow Agrochemicals, features an all-conquering ‘Colonel Grenade’ vowing to fight the dreaded scourge of the gorse invasion which, just like those Nazis in the opening credits of “Dad’s Army”, is fast taking over our farms.
Later, down in the pub, our heroes are celebrating yet another fine win against the enemy over a pint of beer. The problem is, just like in any war, there are innocent victims.
Take Laurie Newman, a 51-year-old former researcher for the Ministry of Agriculture who escaped to a tiny settlement of Waiotira 25kn south of Whangarei, with his long-term partner, Joanne Searle, for a peaceful life.
Over five years ago, on July 17 1995 to be exact, his farm was accidentally sprayed with 2,4,D butyl ester. It is commonly known that 2,4,D contains the same dioxin that residents near the Ivon Dow Watkins Plant in New Plymouth have so vociferously fought for many years.
Soon after, Newman contracted Parkinsonism, a fore-runner to Parkinson.s Disease. Suddenly everyday simple tasks became an excruciating chore. He became ill tempered and suffered blinding headaches and blackouts.
Doctors in New Zealand were initially unable to explain what caused his condition, yet a major breakthrough came for Newman when an Australian expert said it was directly linked to 2,4-D exposure. Now, our own Occupational Safety and Health Department agrees.
In a letter to Newman, OSHS registrar on the chemical panel, Louisa Thomas, said: “It is the opinion of the Chemical Panel that your disease is due to exposure to chemicals, in particular, 2-4-D butyl ester.”
Newman is suing the helicopter company, Marine Helicopters in a landmark case for New Zealand’s agricultural industry. The ramifications of his legal action could go far beyond that. In Newman’s own words, “it would bring the agrochemical industry to its knees.”
Newmans home in the leafy, rolling green hills of Northland is more than 800km away from the Ivon Watkins Dow Plant in New Plymouth, where Investigate reported in its September issue, residents are still calculating the health risks of years of 2,4,5T herbicide production, which contained the same dioxin used in the Vietnam War.
For years governments both here and overseas were happy to turn a blind eye to the damaging effects of dioxin, refusing to admit there was any link between Agent Orange and the health problems suffered by vets.
Yet the US government recently upgraded dioxin to a ‘human carcinogen’ – in other words a substance which can cause major health problems, including cancer, birth defects and infertility.The production of 2,4,5,T was halted in 1987, although pesticide containing 2,4,D – which still contains dioxin, is widely used on New Zealand farms, although it is imported from Australia.
OSH’s conclusion that Newman.s health problems are directly linked to 2,4D is the first admission from a government body in New Zealand about the health problems associated with dioxin.
And now, in what appears to be a dramatic U-turn, Agricultural Minister Jim Sutton is ordering an investigation into 2,4,D, particularly after the Australian expert made his own damning verdict.
In a report, the expert wrote: “Mr Newman’s condition is directly linked to 2,4-D exposure. I have seen a thousand cases like it.”
Jim Sutton followed up that advice with his own damning assessment, ordering that the Pesticide Board reevaluate the use of 2,4-D in New Zealand. Up until now, the Pesticide Board, which licenses products on the New Zealand market, had given 2,4-D the all clear.
In a letter Sutton writes: “An Australian expert in chemical poisoning had stated in a report that Mr Laurie Newman was suffering from Parkinsonism and that this was considered to have been caused by exposure to 2,4,-D. It is my understanding from the advice I have received that the allegations made in this report are very serious, that the report was not provided to the Pesticides Board at that meeting, nor have these allegations been considered by the Board.s expert panel.
“I am most concerned about this matter and consider that it is important that the Board be given a copy of the Australian expert.s report so that it contents can duly be considered.”
One helicopter company alone boasted that in 1996 it sprayed 60,000 hectares of 2,4,D butyl ester alone in the Northland region. Another said it sprayed 20,000 hectares.
Yet there is no legal requirement to keep records of pesticide use so the exact figures may never be known.
Most say it is almost impossible to guarantee that there will be no spray drift, as Newman.s case clearly shows. “Laurie experienced health problems almost immediately after the spray,” said his partner, Joanne. “Nowadays he often acts like a gibbering idiot. He is incredibly intolerant to the slightest noise and suffers from head-aches.
“I have to tell our children what he was like before this happened. He is a shadow of his former self. He doesn’t want to do anything and easily loses his temper.”
Just three months ago Newman suffered a blackout and was hospitalised after falling down stairs. Doctors believe his disease may lead to full-blown Parkinson.s Disease although it is too early to say. Already he is displaying many of the early symptoms, including the inability to write on some days.
So where does this leave the thousands already exposed to 2,4,D? Newman believes that many farmers may be displaying similar symptoms to his own without actually realising why. Experts say it affects those with low body weight in particular.
He wasn’t the only victim that day. 13-year-old Caroline Bon was attending Waiotira School on the day the spray draft contaminated the area.
At that time she was a keen runner, often winning medals at school for her athletic prowess. Shortly after the drift, her father Kees Bon started noticing changes in her character.
“She had stomach aches, muscle weakness, headaches,” he said. “Suddenly she didn’t want to do anything. She could barely run 100 yards, let alone 10km.”At the time he didn’t know what was behind the sudden change in character, but it began a long journey in the search for answers -a journey that recently saw him as the only Australasian representative at the International People’s Dioxin Action Summit in Berkeley, California.
Bon, who came to New Zealand from his native Holland in 1981 and has two children, is the Northland researcher for the Dioxin Investigation Network.
“I wanted to find out what was wrong with her,” he says. “And why. At first there were no easy answers, the doctors couldn’t come up with any reasons that made sense.”
But then Bon heard how other children had been sick too around the time of the spray, although it seemed a veil of silence hung over a community which heavily relied on agriculture for its livelihood.
“Most refuse to speak about it,” he said. ‘Others have moved away. But I recently spoke to one parent who now lives in Rotorua who told me that her daughter had suffered health problems too.”
Newman’s research into the matter has found that the esters of 2,4-D contain 2,3,78 ¬TCCD – which as the residents of New Plymouth know, is one of the most toxic man-made substances on earth. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency it also contains 14 other dioxins.
The problem is, says Newman, that there has never been a complete analysis of the final product to determine what other contaminants are in the pesticide. “Why hasn’t the Pesticide Board done tests and insisted that a complete analysis be a legal requirement of registration?” he remarks.
“I am amazed that the Board accepts without question the data supplied by the manufacturers of this pesticide.”
In 1995 Dow-Elanco in the United States was fined $US 732,000 for failing to report on the adverse effects over the past decades involving a number of pesticides.
There is also growing alarm that the heavy use of 2,4-D on our pastures could have a detrimental effect on what ends up on our dinner table. Dow warns farmers not to spray while animals are grazing as .residues may be found in milk.. Photographs taken show this advice is being freely ignored.
The British medical journal Lancet reports that rates of small intestinal adenocarcinoma in sheep are significantly higher than those grazing in unsprayed pasture and that 2,4-D exposure increases the risk of colon cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. In the same journal it reports: .2,4-D alters hormone levels. and that the level of oestrogen in rats was elevated by exposure to 2,4-D..
It is difficult to analyse the number of spray drift cases in Northland because few figures exist. In 1997 500 pupils at Waiotira School had to be moved inside after a nearby farm was sprayed with 200 litres of 2,4,-D butyl ester. Extensive hormone damage is still visible on trees today.
Medical evidence supports the fact that children are more susceptible because of their higher metabolic rate, lower body weight and developing immune systems.
“I hold the Pesticides Board personally responsible for my illness by not banning a product that is known, and has been known for some time, to cause illness and crop damage, not to mention human suffering,” says Newman.
“We already know the effects 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T had on Vietnam vets who were exposed to Agent Orange. They have suffered a much higher incidence of disease than the unexposed population, including soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin.s lymphoma, Hodgkin.s disease and chloracne. It seems incredible that the New Zealand government still allows this product to be used on our farms.”
Newman concedes that there would be a huge protest from vested interest groups if 2,4-D was banned, including Dow, Federated Farmers and Nufarm. They argue that 2,4-D has been extensively used already, so why aren’t we all suffering from various forms of disease?
In Waiotira alone it has caused those wanting 2,4-D banned to be virtually ostracized by the farming community. Newman has been banned from the local golf club and received threats.
So far, his attempts to sue the helicopter company for spray drift have resulted in frustration. At Auckland’s High Court early this year a Judge rejected their case, saying that it was too vast to be reasonably considered. He told Newman.s partner that she alone stood to lose out financially if they pursued the case.
Nevertheless, they have now taken the case to Auckland District Court. “We have lost so much already why should we stop now,” says Searle. “This case has cost us up to $25,000 and almost our sanity. We have to see this through to the end.”
Newman adds: “We often wonder how the Pesticide Board members would react if they were exposed to 2,4¬D in the manner that we have been and suffered the consequent damage to property and health. We imagine there would be a great deal more enthusiasm to de-register 2,4,-D if that were the case.
“Rural communities are facing huge, land-use changes and attitudes towards the use of herbicides. This is causing much resentment between those who want to spray and, by proxy, drift, and those who under the law of tort demand to live our lives without chemical trespass.
“I.m not against the use of pesticides. All I ask is that they keep them on their side of the fence. Why should I be affected?
“I am not an extremist chemaphobia. I used to work for 15 years at Ruakura Agricultural Research Centre, some of the work involved trials on pesticide use. It was not until 10 years ago, since moving to Northland, that I became concerned about the spray drift issues we have raised in our submission.”
Jim Guidarina, operations manager for Dow Agrosciences, said he is unfamiliar with the OSH report or the Australian expert.s findings. However he did admit to knowing .something. about Newmans case.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton said that an investigation has been launched into the issue of spray drift, while he is also still awaiting a copy of the Australian health report.
“The OSH report on Laurie Newman was the first official report that has ever been advised to the Pesticides Board claiming a link between 2,4-D and human health effects,” he told Investigate.
The Board has thoroughly investigated 2,4-D more than once during the past 56 years. No claims of damage to human health have stood up to scientific scrutiny.
“All chemicals can be dangerous if people do not use them property – even water! People should be extremely careful to avoid exposure to chemicals when gardening or doing horticultural work, and should wear protection clothing.”
reen MP Sue Kedgley has promised to fight for funding to test New Plymouth residents worried about dioxin contamination. Kedgley wants a select committee inquiry following Investigate exposure of what she calls “New Zealands own Erin Brockovich scandal.” In October we reported how alarmingly high cancer rates and birth defect rates in New Plymouth have been linked with the Ivon Watkins Dow plant which produced dioxin-contaminated 2,4,5-T herbicides up until 1987.
Recently eight secret dumps containing toxic waste have been found in locations around the city, including under new housing developments.
Two weeks ago the Dioxin Investigation Network1)D.I.N disbanded and Group reformed to CEPRA , a group of residents who turned scientist in the quest for answers, held a public meeting attended by Kedgley and Greenpeace.
Kedgley said she will use the Green.s own budget allocation to conduct blood tests on residents while also testing marine life.
“This is one of the worst environmental pollution cases I have ever come across,” she said.
“At the meeting it was like Erin Brockovich all over in the way individuals were talking about their own illnesses. It was a roll call of illness and disease. One Maori woman who came along only recently discovered that she lived close to a dump. Up until now she had never questioned why her family has been riddled with cancer.”
Ivon Watkins manufactured 2,4,5-T herbicide from the early 1960s up until 1987 when world health fears forced it to shut production. 2,4,5-T contains the deadly dioxin used to form Agent Orange in the Vietnam War.
In New Zealand it was used to kill scrub, gorse and blackberry. Recently the US government upgraded dioxin to a ‘human carcinogen’ – in other words a substance that causes cancer.
“I am outraged by the whole scandal,” Kedgley told Investigate “I’m outraged that a group of citizens had to turn detective to work out where there are contaminated waste dumps in a high populated urban area. I am outraged that there is no public register with this information which should accessible via a website.
“Instead of these residents uncovering information, health officials and New Plymouth City Council should be acting.
“I am horrified that the city council approved planning permission for a factory which is adjacent to a large built up area and right next door to kindergarten and school.”
At the meeting one man told how he personally dumped 1,000 drums of toxic waste next to a river. “The council has got to be out there testing,” says Kedgley. “They can.t just turn a blind eye to it.”
Kedgley will take a dossier on 2,4,5-T contamination to Health Minister Annette King. She will also raise the matter in the Health Select Committee.
“For years the government assured the people of New Plymouth that there was no risk to human health from the operation of this factory and from dioxin exposure. We now know that advice was wrong. There is no safe limit on dioxin contamination. The government needs to acknowledge that it was wrong.”
Kedgley admits that there is a huge liability issue over dioxin contamination and hinted that is part of the reason why a veil of secrecy has hung over the issue for so long.
She is also pushing for the re-establishment of a cancer mortality atlas in New Zealand so that clusters of high cancer rates can be investigated.
“The government must be more pro-active in this role,” she said. “We need to be able to look at illness rates and ask why certain areas of regions are affected. We pump $7 billion into health but we are not doing enough to reduce the level of illness in this country.”
Meanwhile, the call for an investigation is supported by Greenpeace, which has launched a nationwide campaign to highlight health risks associated with dioxin.
reenpeace toxics campaigner, Sue Connor, is calling for the government to sign an international treaty to eliminate dioxins altogether. So far New Zealand, along with the US, is one of only a handful of countries refusing to sign the treaty, although the issue will shortly be discussed again.
“This will be a test to see if this government is willing to stand up to protect the environment and people.s health or whether it will sweep the dangers of dioxin under the carpet,” says Connor.
“The anecdotal evidence of high levels of cancers and other illness, which can be associated with dioxin contamination, is of very real concern.”
Taranaki Regional Council chief executive Basil Chamberlain said the discovery of toxic waste dumps was “news to me.”
“We can’t do anything about it until people tell us,” he says. “We want people to come to us with the details. At the moment it is all talk.”
Chamberlain said his council has been responsible for testing water and air emissions since 1990 and has never found anything abnormal . but that is three years after 2,4,5-T production was halted. Meanwhile, Dow Agrosciences is refusing to comment in depth on the is¬sue. Operations Manager Jim Guidarina claims the company was unable to send any representatives to the public meeting because of ‘existing commitments.’
“This is a public health issue and it is not up to us to respond to issues of this sort,” he said. “It is up to the health bodies. We will co-operate with any review just like we have done in the past. We don.t know anything about any so-called waste dumps and have never received any information from people like Andrew Gibbs.”.
National Archives Records
The poisoning of New Zealand II; Kedgley : why the government must act
|By :||Jones, Simon|
|In :||Investigate, Dec 2000; v.1 n.9:p.26-33
|Abstract :||Investigates the link between exposure, including from spray drift, to the herbicide 2,4-D and illness, including cancers and neurological disorders, in humans and animals. Speaks to the Northland man about his diagnosis with Parkinsonism, its link to agricultural spraying near his home and his attempts to sue the helicopter company that sprayed the chemical. Also talks to Kees Bon about how spray drift at Waiotira School has affected his daughter Caroline Bon. Notes that the Pesticide Board is re-evaluating the use of the chemical. Interviews Green MP Sue Kedgley about the issues and what she believes the government should do about it.|
|About :||Newman, Laurie (Waiotira)|
|Url||of this record – http://innz.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=389862|
Original Source: PDF
|↑ 1.||D.I.N disbanded and Group reformed to CEPRA|