Campaigners count the cost of battling for their fellow man

They have worked for years to reveal the problems of pollution from a chemical factory in New Plymouth, suffering abuse from neighbours, disbelief and stress.

That campaign has wrecked intimate relationships and still causes an elderly man to suffer verbal abuse at the bus stop and at rest home functions.

For Ray Kennedy, 89, the battle against the former Paritutu herbicide plant of Dow AgroSciences, then Ivon Watkins-Dow, began with a newspaper letter-writing campaign in the 1970s.

Mr Kennedy blames his bowel cancer, from which he has recovered, and his daughter’s cancer death, on the plant, several hundred metres from the house he lived in for 50 years.

He said that over the years he had frequently been verbally attacked by locals, angry at his outspokenness about the contamination of the suburb. They blamed him for difficulties selling their houses. The abuse even continued now he had shifted to a rest home several kilometres away.

Mr Kennedy credits Andrew Gibbs, 42, with the progress anti-dioxin campaigners have made, leading to Thursday’s announcement that the Ministry of Health had detected raised dioxin levels in some residents’ blood.

But Mr Gibbs, of the Dioxin Investigation Network, said the battle and its stress had cost him two relationships.

He traces his campaigning lifestyle to the trauma in his family over the death of his sister, aged six months, from spina bifida when he was four.
He became involved in the Paritutu fight in the late 1990s when his then partner, who had lived there, was pregnant with their second child and after learning of soil contamination in the suburb.

He and Paritutu resident Roy Drake – who blames his crippling multiple sclerosis on the contamination – “had been watching what had been happening in Vietnam.

Mr Drake, 55, blames not the battle but the 2,4,5-T byproduct dioxin, for breaking up his marriage.

Then there were the campaigners like Hyacinth Henderson, the nurse in charge of New Plymouth’s Westown Maternity Hospital, who became worried about the number of babies born with deformities in the 1960s. Or Opunake general practitioner Phil Cassin, who kept records of baby deliveries.

On the other side of the campaigning fence, Dorothy Doeg, in her mid-fifties, leads the Paritutu Community Group. She said the group’s main aim was to establish that the area was now safe to live in – and there were official assurances this was the case.

By Martin Johnston | 5:00 AM Saturday Sep 11, 2004 | nzherald.co.nz
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