Paritutu “the Never Ending Story”

A Community under the Toxic Shadow of Dioxin*.
Paritutu Overview
In the late 1990’s long running community concerns over ongoing health impacts from 1960’s and early 1970’s chemical exposures ignited after community re-analysis of 1985 Paritutu dioxin soil testing proposed that the 1985 dioxin residues in soils evidenced historic 1960’s airborne exposures in Paritutu similar to those in 1960’s Vietnam. The opinion of the Health Dept. Regional Air Pollution Control Officer who submitted this evidence to the 1986 Committee of Inquiry was that, the dioxin soil residues were deposited by airborne releases during the manufacture of IWD 2,4,5-T from 1964 to 1969.
The 1986 Committee of Inquiry tested the residents blood for 2,4,5-T residues, a type of test which only detects recent 2,4,5-T exposure, as compared to dioxin testing which detects residues from exposures decades earlier. A 1987 meeting of Government officials, the Ministerial Inquiry team and IWD officials had declined 1987 dioxin testing offered by the DSIR, even though both dioxin and 2,4,5-T population testing were recommended by a working group set up by the 1984 Labour Government and were also recommended by then Minister of the Environment Phil Goff to the then Health Minister Michael Basset for his 1986 and 1987 Committee of Inquiry.
In 1998 and 2000 both National Coalition and Labour Ministers responded to new requests for serum testing of those exposed during the 1960’s and early 70’s with dismissive denials significant exposure had occurred. The issue was further debated with the then Minister of Health Annette King, who promised up to 100 serum tests.
Two main issues were raised with the Minister, airborne exposures evidenced by 1985 soil testing and secondly the possible historic contamination of kai moana (seafood) by large discharges of liquid wastses from chemical production and leachate from historic waste dumps. Letters to the Minister refered to the “buried” official evidence, but not to any buried wastes.
However, in the Minister’s press release of 13th February 2001 the justification for serum testing was cleverly re-framed onto new anonymous ‘insider’ allegations in ‘Investigate’ magazine apparently from an ex IWD official that 1000’s of tonnes of chemical wastes were buried under residential Paritutu.
As well as the proposed blood serum dioxin testing of residents, a health study was announced on recent 1988-1999 Moturoa residents who had lived in the census area around the plant along with another report on (2001) risks to New Plymouth residents from alleged buried waste dumps.
However there would be no investigation into the health status of significantly exposed 1960’s early 1970’s residents. The evidence of historic airborne exposures to 1960’s early 1970’s residents although covered by the 1986 / 1987 Ministerial Committee of Inquiry’s terms of reference, had been totally ignored by the 1986 / 1987 Ministerial Inquiry.
This 2000-2002 ‘reassurance’ communication strategy was highly effective in steering media focus away from evidenced issues used to argue for the serum testing. That is that the 1986 / 87 Labour Ministerial Committee of Inquiry had at the least overlooked key evidence of very large airborne releases and dioxin levels in soils evidenced residues of dioxin similar to hundreds of direct applications of 2,4,5-T (at the rate used in N.Z to kill gorse) and that were also similar to dioxin soil levels in Zone B Seveso, Italy and also in Vietnam.
Significant TCDD exposures occurred while New Plymouth birth defects rates were the highest in New Zealand and amongst the highest in the world.
A 1982 report found that over 1974 to 1978 rates of two rare cancers which the US I.O.M associated with herbicide exposures (1996) were also increased.
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