A former West Australian government minister wants a long-running case of chemical poisoning in the Kimberley to be reopened.
Gallop Labor government agriculture minister Kim Chance set up two inquiries and a compensation scheme into the weed-spraying program in the 1970s and 80s, following premature deaths and a wide range of illnesses among the workers involved in the spraying.
But, 10 years on, it has been revealed that only eight workers out of 70 have been compensated.
The families also now believe the dioxin poisoning has affected some of the workers’ partners and children.
“We know that these chemicals have an effect on DNA,” Mr Chance said.
“What needs to be done now, in light of intergenerational effects, is perhaps they [the Government] should go back to those first two reviews.”
Hundreds of mainly Aboriginal men were hired by the Agriculture Protection Board (APB) to spray noxious weeds, noogoora burr and parkinsonia, across northern WA.
They sprayed the now banned chemical 245 T, an ingredient in the highly toxic defoliant Agent Orange, wearing little more than shorts and singlets.
Former APB employee Ron Delvin
Chemical blamed for family illness and deaths
PHOTO: APB worker Ron Delvin blames dioxin exposure for the death of his wife and unborn child. (ABC News: Claire Moodie)
Derby-based former APB foreman Ron Delvin believes the chemical is responsible for the deaths of both his wife and unborn child.
He was in charge of one of the spraying teams and would take them bush for 10 days at a time.
He said they had no idea how poisonous the spray was.
“You’re living and breathing the stuff, if you’re not actually handling it and spraying it, you’ve got the fumes and everything else hanging around in the air,” he said.
Mr Delvin said he was one of the lucky ones who was still alive, but believes exposure to the chemicals caused the tongue cancer that killed his wife.
“I’d bring the car home, Jenny would be out there washing it,” he said.
“She’d be washing all the chemicals and stuff off the back.”
“Then there was the daughter that never made it – Bianca – they diagnosed her with anencephaly at 20 weeks, so we had her terminated.”
Anencephaly is the absence of a major portion of the brain.
Mr Delvin wants the issue dealt with once and for all.
“Get it out in the open, be honest,” Mr Delvin said.
“It flares up and goes away and then flares up again – sort of like a boil.
“I just want it over and done with.”
PHOTO: Serena Buckle, 32, would like to know if chemicals used in weed spraying in the Kimberley during the 1970s caused her disability. (ABC News: Claire Moodie)
Other community members have been affected by what they say is the toxic legacy of the spraying program.
Local Derby radio presenter Serena Buckle’s father sprayed for APB before his death.
She was born with a rare birth defect. Her left arm never fully developed.
Her grandmother Lena Buckle-Fraser is convinced Serena’s condition was caused by the chemicals.
The local Derby elder has lost two children and a grandchild to what she calls “the curse of Agent Orange”.
These people need help: Doctor
Doctor Andrew Harper conducted the first government inquiry in 2003 and has become increasingly convinced the men and their families have not been fairly treated.
“It has never been resolved and the Government’s response has been simply to look at the whole problem statistically, and when the statistics were not there they really washed their hands of it,” he said.
“I think that’s most irresponsible.”
Dr Harper believes the current Government should set up an independent fund for those still affected.
“We need appropriate, independent experts who will meet with the families and listen to their concerns,” he said.
Evidence needed to spark fresh inquiry: Agriculture Minister
WA Agriculture Minister Ken Baston said if families had any new information, it should be presented to the State Government along with documentation from health professionals.
“There has been a considerable amount of health and scientific work done on the issue over a long period of time,” Mr Baston said.
In the United States, Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange are eligible for compensation for a wide range of diseases.
Although not statistically proven that dioxin exposure can cause illness in generations, the US also recognises some birth defects in veterans’ children.
Looking back, Mr Chance said he was disappointed with the outcome of his Government’s earlier attempts to address the health problems linked to the
spraying program. “It’s clear that what we hoped to achieve wasn’t achieved,” he said.
“We tried to find solutions within the existing set of rules for compensation, but eventually it went out of my hands.
“I acknowledge that there are people who are unsatisfied with what we did.”
By Briana Shepherd and Claire Moodie | Posted 25 Jul 2015| Original Source: abc.net.au "Government inquiry push in WA chemical poisoning case"
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