Currency factory in spotlight over workers health problems

Former staff at a Whangarei currency printing factory that closed 11 years ago want an inquiry into the extent of health problems associated with those who worked there.

In the latest issue of its magazine, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union details the case of former plant employee Eddie Ward, a print hall general hand. The union wants to hear from other people who worked at the factory.

English security printers Bradbury Wilkinson started printing banknotes at the plant in May 1980.

The plant's workforce peaked around 300, but in 1990 its then owners, Thomas de la Rue, shut it.

Mr Ward, who still works in the printing industry, in Auckland, said he was on permanent medication and had an irregular heartbeat and bouts of headaches and dizziness.

He had recovered from a severe thyroid condition and a minor stroke since leaving the plant.

He believed his health problems resulted from his exposure to chemicals at the factory and alleges safety procedures were unsatisfactory.

He said his appeal for an inquiry was supported by another former worker, Mark Bowman.

Mr Bowman, of Onerahi, said the union should have acted sooner.

He became sick in 1984 while working at the plant, and his weight had about halved to around 38kg.

There had been fears for his life but when his illness was diagnosed as legionnaires' disease he started a slow recovery.

After being off work for six or seven months, often in hospital, he returned to the plant on light duties.

He said he was sure he contracted the disease at the factory, but there was no official confirmation of the source and the company did not accept responsibility.

Mr Bowman was normally a platemaker at the plant, but before he became ill he took an opportunity to work into the Christmas break doing maintenance work to the air conditioning system, a prime source of legionnaires' bacteria.

In 1993, ACC accepted that the death of Whangarei man John Taylor from leukaemia was related to the five years he had spent working at the factory and agreed to compensate his widow.

- NZPA

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