Ray’s story: The consequences of dioxin exposure

Sep 10, 2004

Ray Kennedy 89 yrs

Ray Kennedy 89 yrs

Ray Kennedy, 89, who lived just 100m from the Ivon Watkins-Dow chemical plant for 50 years, vividly remembers the stench of chemicals when the wind was blowing the wrong way.

He says the plant has taken a great personal toll on him, including the death of his daughter in her 40s from cancer, developing bowel cancer himself as well as a severe skin complaint in the past, and the death of flowers he grew commercially.

He now lives in a rest-home several kilometres from the plant.

Mr Kennedy, who has recovered from his cancer, believes Dow should compensate those affected.

“They have got to help them somehow. The only way they can help is with money.”

When the Herald took Mr Kennedy back for a visit yesterday, he recalled the 1972 explosion at the plant that others describe as coating the area in a fallout like soap bubbles.

“It was like a big bloody war; like a big bomb had landed close,” said Mr Kennedy, who was sitting in his house at the time.

Local views about the dioxin report remain sharply divided.

Doug West, a 77-year-old who lives about 500m from the plant, was one of 24 people to be told personally of their blood test results, following a study for the Government that found “elevated” dioxin levels.

The worst-off group from the suspected airborne contamination were elderly women, at nearly five times the national average dioxin levels for their age and sex.

Overall, the results are similar to the findings from blood tests taken in South Vietnam after the spraying of Agent Orange during the war more than 30 years ago.

Mr West was unflustered by his results, despite earlier saying he entered the study to debunk the claims of ill-health effects made by anti-dioxin campaigners.

“Do I look worried? To a reasonable degree you’re the master of your own destiny. It doesn’t worry me because you live till you die.”

A doctor and a scientist carrying test results knocked on Mr West’s door at 8am yesterday.

They spent 40 minutes explaining to him that his level of a particular dioxin was more than four times the national average for a man over 65. This put him at an increased risk from cancer.

Mr West said his father and grandfather had both died of cancer and he had done what he could to reduce his own risk by giving up smoking more than 30 years ago.

He had always been healthy, apart from two hip replacements, and he was not about to allow a council notice stating that his land was contaminated to put him and his wife, Alma, off eating vegetables and fruit from their garden.

They had grown vegetables nearly every year since shifting into their house in 1960, and had lived in the area since 1958.

While the officials were talking to Mr West, one of his sons, Allan, came to visit. He told of playing as a child in a swamp beside the plant, into which contaminated waste was said to have flowed.

He had never suffered any health problems from it.

“I just glow in the dark,” he joked.

By Martin Johnston | nzherald.co.nz  |  Sep 10, 2004
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