US scientist to look at dioxin claims

Oct 27, 2006

Pete Hodgson

Pete Hodgson

A scientist at the University of California will review forensic accountant John Leonard’s work on dioxin levels at a New Plymouth chemical plant, Health Minister Pete Hodgson told Parliament yesterday.

In a TV3 documentary shown on Monday night, Mr Leonard said high levels of dioxin contamination at the Ivon Watkins-Dow factory in Paritutu were obscured by poor methodology in last year’s Ministry of Health report.

Ivon Watkins-Dow, now called DowAgro Sciences, made the herbicide 2,4,5-T from 1962 to 1987. A byproduct of the manufacturing process was TCDD, a type of dioxin.

Dioxins are chemicals that can cause birth defects, diabetes and some rare forms of cancer.

Campaigners say residents who lived near the plant at the time should be tested for health problems associated with exposure, and genetic damage.

Mr Hodgson, answering questions from Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, said Mr Leonard had made serious claims and he had instructed the ministry to have his report independently reviewed.

“This review will be carried out by Dr Allan Smith of the University of California at Berkley,” he said.

The review would assess the accuracy of Mr Leonard’s work and the results would be made public.

“The gentleman raises valid questions,” Mr Hodgson said.

The Ministry of Health said it stood by last year’s report, which was carried out by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research.

ESR’s general manager of environmental health, Fiona Thomson-Carter, said the study methodology and findings were reviewed by scientists regarded as leaders in their field and it was confident in the report.

A ministry senior adviser for public health medicine, Douglas Lush, said both agencies were surprised by allegations of a cover-up.

ESR and the ministry had gone to considerable lengths to inform the community and all recent reports were publicly available on the ministry website, he said.

The only portion of the report the ministry did not release contained information about the participants in the study it had promised to withhold.

TV3 had sought this information and the Office of the Ombudsmen was currently deciding whether it should be released.

The review is expected to take two weeks.

NZPA | Oct 27, 2006  | nzherald.co.nz | NEWS-2006-M10-27-002
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