*Maybe Moral Only
Wednesday June 23, 2010
Former Whakatane wood mill workers have won a hard fought victory in their battle to get health support after years of exposure to poisons.
The workers claim they have suffered serious health problems from working with carcinogenic timber treatment chemicals, including the timber preservative PCP.
The Ministry of Health told a meeting of 200 workers that it is setting up a special support service for the ex-mill hands which will include free health checks and counselling.
They were also told they will be given access to health promotions to reduce risks, such as cancer, and mental health services.
Many of the men still suffering consider it just a start, after having their complaints ignored for years, with former mill worker, Mala Palai, saying real change will be more difficult to come by.
“I’m still fighting, that’s why I’m happy to come along and listen to this. (It) may be something new, but I can’t see any change,“ he says.
The cost of the health support work will depend on how many people take it up, but consultants have estimated between $400,000-$1.3 million over two years.
A lobby group, Sawmill Workers Against Poisons (SWAP), has been fighting for help for nearly 30 years, and workers have complained of high rates of cancer, diabetes, and kidney, liver and heart failure.
Around 200 workers at the Whakatane wood mill developed chronic illnesses and psychological problems after inhaling dioxins from the anti-fungal timber treatment PCP between the 1950s and 1980s.
They were so unaware of the dangers they often used log splinters as toothpicks and sawdust from the mill in their fish smokers and gardens.
Research from Massey University showed higher levels of cancer and lung disease than normal in the former workers, and according to researcher David McLean, the increase was significant.
“We did find that they had more cancer – they had something like 50% more cancer than you’d expect from a population of that size and age,“ he says.
Another study found a 40% increase in the risk of cancer in sawmill workers exposed to PCP compared with those who were not, and a 200% to 300% increase in deaths from chronic non-cancerous respiratory disease in PCP-exposed workers.
The Ministry says it does not know much about the long-term health effects associated with exposure to PCP*1 , but it is a possible human carcinogen associated with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma and soft tissue sarcoma.
Dioxins appear to act more as a cancer promoter than as a cancer initiator, and do not appear to be directly toxic to genes.
About 10% of workers who had relatively high levels of dioxin in their blood worked in the industry for 10 years or more, or did high-risk jobs such as cleaning out PCP containers.
The highest dioxin level recorded in the 2007 study was in a former worker who had the equivalent of 90.2 parts per trillion (ppt) – suggesting it would have been as high as 360-720ppt 20 years earlier – and such workers are three times more likely to have respiratory disease.
People with more PCP exposure also reported increased prevalence of a number of other health conditions, including eczema, thyroid disorders, unexplained persistent fevers, recurrent nausea and diarrhoea, heart palpitations and low libido.
An initial compensation package offer was turned down by workers this year, and there was no announcement of compensation today.
People who worked for at least a year in a sawmill where PCP was used and came into contact with wet PCP will get the health support, but no faster access to treatment than other New Zealander’s with the same needs.
The report does not support former sawmill workers getting faster access to treatment services than other New Zealander’s who might have the same needs.
The Ministry said there was insufficient evidence to suggest that the workers’ children or grandchildren will suffer health effects*2 , but research will now be carried out to determine the validity of the claim.
* Blog opinion:
*1 The NZ Government truly do not want to know the truth that’s why they defer to advise from IOM instead of the organisations the really do know and say exactly what effects these dioxins have on humans.
*2 Generational effects is also documented well with these qualified reference points unlike IOM, only the blind and fool would say otherwise.
** ‘This is all about’ **
“HIP POCKET VISION”
‘affordability of the TRUTH’