Expert to review dioxin report after critics claim flaws

The Ministry of Health is asking for an additional expert to review a dioxin poisoning report after critics questioned the independence of a ministry appointed scientist.

Deputy Director General of Health (Public Health) Dr Don Matheson said the ministry would approach the World Health Organisation (WHO) today to seek advice about appointing the additional reviewer.

The move may be viewed as a partial concession after the Green Party questioned the independence of the ministry appointed scientist Professor Allan Smith to review the dioxin report.

Critics have said the report is seriously flawed.

The Government announced last month Professor Smith – a scientist at the University of California at Berkeley – would review questions raised by forensic accountant John Leonard about the Health Ministry report on a New Plymouth chemical plant.

In a TV3 documentary shown last month, Mr Leonard said high levels of dioxin contamination at the Ivon Watkins-Dow factory in Paritutu were obscured by poor methodology in last year’s Ministry of Health report.

Ivon Watkins-Dow, which is now called DowAgro Sciences, made the herbicide 245T from 1962 to 1987.

A by-product of manufacturing, TCDD, was a type of dioxin.

Dioxins can cause birth defects, diabetes and cancer.

Dr Matheson said the ministry believed the original report on dioxin exposure in Paritutu was of a “high, international standard”.

He said it would have been unusual to provide peer reviewers of that report with individual serum results.

The reviewers were provided with analysed anonymised data from the individual data tables in line with normal accepted practice, Dr Matheson said.

“However, given the public concern about the integrity of this process, the ministry has taken these steps to reassure former Paritutu residents and the wider New Zealand public.

“We believe the most appropriate way to maintain public confidence is to make the process as transparent as possible and to complete it quickly.” Dr Matheson said there was concern that the “respected scientists” involved in preparing the report and in reviewing it had endured questions about their expertise and integrity in the past week.

“I hope appointing an additional reviewer will lead to at least a temporary respite for them.

“Professor Smith is a world-leader in dioxin research and his status as an epidemiologist at one of America’s leading universities gives him both the expertise and the necessary independence to review this report. The questioning of his scientific integrity in recent days is regrettable.”

Dr Matheson said the Institute of Environmental and Science and Research would continue with its own peer review by Dr Smith of the report.

NZPA | 5:00 AM Thursday Nov 2, 2006 | nzherald.co.nz
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