The chemical stench, the closed windows and the illnesses – the dioxin-laced stories of Paritutu have developed a pattern.
Residents of the New Plymouth suburb told their stories yesterday, following the release of a study that found increased levels of dioxin in the blood of some.
Bruce and Sally – not their real names – have lived on Paritutu Rd about a kilometre from the Dow AgriSciences plant since 1952.
Bruce, aged 81 and his 80-year-old wife suffer a range of health problems they blame on breathing in dioxin pollution from the plant, where Ivon Watkins-Dow made the herbicide 2,4,5-T from the early 1960s to 1987.
Dioxins, a byproduct, can cause cancer and have been linked to reproductive failure and birth defects.
Interim results of the study of blood samples from 24 present or former long-term residents from near the plant, released this week by the Health Ministry, found elevated levels of the dioxin TCDD.
The amounts found are tiny, but they are on average three times the national level.
The Paritutu levels have been officially likened to some in Vietnam, which was sprayed with Agent Orange, which contained 2,4,5-T. They are also linked to a 10 per cent increase in the risk of dying from cancer.
“I’m two and a half times normal and my wife is four times normal,” Bruce said.
He had surgery for bowel cancer 28 years ago, has had one major and several less-serious strokes and three cardiac arrests. He has prostate cancer, which is being monitored.
Sally, too, is being monitored, for a condition that can progress to bowel cancer. Both suffer fatigue.
Bruce recalls the chemical fumes frequently wafting over the house.
“It wasn’t only the fumes. It was clouds of foam when they were pumping down on the back beach [about 2km away].
“When it started coming over the kids thought it was great – something to play in.”
When asked if he wanted anything from Dow, he said: “Not at this stage. I want to get all the facts then I might start doing something.
“The council, the hospital board, the Government all okayed this [the 2,4,5-T production].”
Doug West, aged 77, who lives up the hill, has more than four times the national average of TCDD. But he said it had not affected his health.
Phyllis Bond, 85, has lived diagonally opposite the plant, about 200m away, for 40 years. She wanted to join the study, but was never formally notified of it so was not tested.
She attributes no health problems for herself or her late husband, Charles, to the plant, only nuisance value.
“We smelled a lot of unpleasant smells. We couldn’t have our window open at night.”
Roy Drake, a 55-year-old multiple sclerosis sufferer, and Ray Kennedy, 89, who has recovered from bowel cancer surgery last year and had a severe skin complaint, both blame their health problems on the plant.
By Martin Johnston | 5:00 AM Saturday Sep 11, 2004 | nzherald.co.nz