Dioxin tests raise questions about painted moth spraying

Mar 13, 2005

The report into the dioxin levels of New Plymouth residents who’d lived in close proximity to the Ivan Watkins Dow chemical factory didn’t tell the residents anything they didn’t already know. Still, it must have been heartening for them to receive confirmation of their suspicions.

For years, the locals had been saying that chemicals from the plant, which used to produce the poisonous weed killer 2,4,5-T, had poisoned them as well. And now the study by health officials has found that the average level of dioxin in the blood of the 52 participants the study is nearly four times the national level, and that carries with it an increased risk of cancer.

A study comparing death rates from dioxin-related cancers in New Plymouth to the rest of the country is expected out later this year, and there’s also a study planned which will compare New Plymouth and national birth-defect statistics for links to dioxin.

I bet the residents of West Auckland would love to see a similar study by health officials into any possible link between the spray used to kill the painted apple moth and the incidence of neurological disorders among residents in the spray zone. I lived in the flight path of the crop dusters and I can’t say I enjoyed having the garden sprayed a couple of times a week.

But as someone who finishes work at midnight, being woken by the planes at 6.30am was more annoying than the spray.

Given that I used to be a social smoker and had knowingly put harmful chemicals into my own body, I wasn’t going to get precious about the spray component.

Besides, better that a few of us get sprayed than the entire country.

But now, having heard a number of horror stories from people whose erstwhile healthy family members have suddenly been struck down by motor neurone disease, I’m not so sure. Maybe I shouldn’t have been quite so blase. It’s terribly hard to prove a link, especially given that we’re all so different in terms of our tolerance to different substances. But just like the New Plymouth case, maybe the health effects of the spraying campaign are worthy of further study. It can’t hurt, can it?

By Kerre McIvor/Kerre Woodham |  nzherald.co.nz Mar 13, 2005
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