Dioxin inquiry eases health fears

Aug 10, 2001

An investigation into the health of residents living near a chemical plant in New Plymouth has found no evidence of high rates of illness.

The Taranaki District Health Board yesterday released the report, Rates of Reported Illness in Paritutu and Moturoa.

The report is the first of three investigations to be undertaken after concerns were raised last year that dioxin was causing increased rates of cancers, birth defects and multiple sclerosis.

The dioxin was suspected to be a byproduct from chemicals manufactured at the Dow AgroSciences plant.

The results of soil sampling at 31 dump sites across New Plymouth are to be released next month and blood-testing of residents is also being organised.

The author of the health report, medical officer of health Dr Patrick O’Connor, said he was confident of the report’s validity.

The report concentrated on whether there was a risk to the local residents. They could now be reassured there had been no increase in illnesses in the area since 1988, he said.

Claims by the Dioxin Investigation Network spokesman Andrew Gibbs that the report had not been independently reviewed were incorrect.

Both the Ministry of Health and Professor Alistair Woodward from the Wellington School of Medicine had carried out appropriate reviews, Dr O’Connor said.

The main conclusions of the report are:

* No evidence of increased rates of cancer registrations.

* The death rates from cancer were 6 per cent higher than the national average, but this was within the expected range of normal variation.

* Birth-defect rates in the area are below the national average.

* Multiple sclerosis cases associated with present or previous residency in the area are not unusually high.

But the report did not look into statistics before 1988 nor follow up residents who moved from the area and then became ill, Dr O’Connor said. Such a study would be far more complex and would require considerable cost.

The Taranaki health board’s public health general manager, Mark Poppelwell, said a fourth investigation, that of testing soil for dioxin in the immediate area of the plant, could soon go ahead.

Wellington-based lawyer Roger Chapman, representing Paritutu residents, said the study was limited because it looked at only the past 10 years or so and did not take into account anybody who had left the area.

The Greens’ Sue Kedgley said the report ignored anecdotal evidence of mass sickness.

Aug 10, 2001 | nzherald.co.nz 
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