The Green Party says now that independent reviews have confirmed Paritutu residents were subjected to dioxin poisoning it is time for action to help the contamination victims.
Three independent reviews released today by Health Minister Pete Hodgson endorsed a 2005 study assessing historical dioxin exposure at the Paritutu community in New Plymouth.
The major finding of that study was that people who lived close to the Ivon Watkins-Dow plant between 1962 and 1987 were likely to have dioxin levels on average four times higher than the general public. In some groups the level was as much as seven times as high.
The reviews released today were commissioned after concerns were raised in a TV3 documentary last October about the accuracy of the Health Ministry-commissioned study.
There were complaints high levels of dioxin contamination at the factory were hidden by poor methodology.
Mr Hodgson said today there were minor errors in the study, but these did not affect the findings.
He was satisfied from the reviews that the study’s conclusions were “utterly valid”.
“It is important to say again that the report of the study, released in 2005, did find evidence of historical exposure to dioxins for people who lived close to the former Ivon Watkins Dow (IWD) agrochemical plant, in particular for at least 15 years between 1962 and 1987,” Mr Hodgson said.
“This major finding remains unchanged.”
Green Party health spokeswoman Sue Kedgley said as well as confirming the existence of errors the reviews also confirmed “the devastating central findings of the study”.
“The Government now has to take speedy, fair and effective measures to compensate the victims,” she said.
“It is not good enough for Mr Hodgson to talk vaguely about ‘some form of enhanced health support or information service’. The Government has had years to get an appropriate response to this situation up and ready to go.”
Mr Hodgson said today it was not unreasonable to criticise the pace of government action on developing health support services.
The Health Ministry was negotiating with a provider for these services and the tendering process had taken “an awful long time”.
Mr Hodgson noted that in the meantime residents had access to regular health services. He said after the study was done Paritutu people were given vouchers to go and see their GP , but most of these were never redeemed.
There were, however, a small group who were distressed about the uncertainties of what the exposure may mean for the health of themselves or their children.
This was difficult to assess as links between exposure and health effects were tenuous, so Mr Hodgson wanted to keep in touch with these people to at the very least provide them with new information as it became available.
Dr Douglas Lush, acting director of public health, said the ministry hoped to have a provider secured as soon as possible – “within months”, he estimated.
“Once the study showed that these people were exposed to dioxin we wanted to look at what we could offer this community,” Dr Lush said.
“The dioxin level in the body slowly reduces over time so there isn’t any obvious thing that can be provided to the people. However, we’re looking at what evidence there is available to determine what services, what information, what advice can be provided.”
It was not yet known if the package of services would include wider dioxin testing for other Paritutu or New Plymouth residents, Mr Hodgson said.
But testing in itself did not show much other than what a person’s dioxin levels were, which was not an actual diagnosis of any health problem.
“I have myself spent two summers spraying gorse with 245T, I don’t know what my dioxin levels are and I will not be a better person if I found out,” he said.
Mr Hodgson said compensation was unlikely as there was no government involvement in production of 245T or any other organochlorines.
Ms Kedgley said the Green Party believed the Government should do its utmost to make IWD, the polluter, pay.
NZPA | By Hannah Henderson | 3:42 PM Wednesday Jan 24, 2007 | nzherald.co.nz