The Government should provide free blood tests to everyone who lived near the former Ivon Watkins-Dow chemical plant in New Plymouth while it was in operation, Green Party MP Sue Kedgley says.
It should also provide free annual medical checkups, then treatment if necessary, she said.
Yesterday, blood tests from people living near the suburban Paritutu plant between 1962 and 1987 — when IWD produced the weed killer 2,4,5,T — showed they had high levels of potentially cancer causing dioxin in their bodies.
Dioxin levels in the 52 people tested ranged from no higher than the New Zealand average, to 15 times higher.
Exposure came from breathing fumes from IWD as well as eating home-grown leafy vegetables and exposed fruit — like apples or grapes.
The tests were done by the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Research, for the Health Ministry.
Ministry public health expert Deborah Read said dioxin levels were on average about four times higher than normal.
Those elevated levels could cause up to three extra deaths from cancer in every one hundred people, she said.
An Otago University study would now look at the health of former IWD staff who worked at the plant during the production of 2,4,5,T.
But Ms Kedgley said while the study would be useful it should not be used as an excuse to further delay providing people proper medical treatment.
“We have ample evidence now that the environment and therefore the health of people living near the plant at the time of peak exposure in the 70s was highly contaminated,” she said last night in a statement.
Ms Kedgley said the Government should move to make the Dow corporation liable for damage to residents and the environment.
“The taxpayer shouldn’t be picking up the bill, it should be the company that caused the pollution,” she said.
But Director of Public Health Mark Jacobs said yesterday there were no grounds for legal action against IWD at this stage.
The study did not determine whether health effects had occurred in the study group, but the ministry would now work with Taranaki District Health Board to identify health needs within the Paritutu community.
Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) spokesman Mike Cosman said the Otago University study would look at non-fatal health effects, as the health of workers who had died had already been investigated.
“It would look at their health defects to find out their history and how long they worked at the plant. Then there is going to be some sampling of dioxin levels in those workers,” he said.
About 1600 people had worked there during that period and they were currently being located, he said.
NZPA | Mar 11, 2005 | NEWS-2005-M03-11-002 | nzherald.co.nz