By KEVIN TAYLOR
Compensation calls from politicians started as the enormity of dioxin exposure from a former New Plymouth pesticides plant became clear yesterday.
The strongest call came from New Plymouth MP and Government minister Harry Duynhoven, who said proper compensation should be paid when significant evidence was found showing Dow AgroSciences was responsible.
"To date the arguments have always been there's no proven link between Dow and the products that were made, and incidence of disease in the area.
"Now, we have scientific evidence which says 'yes'. At last we have valid scientific evidence that says we've got a problem here - which has been what many of us have suspected for a long time."
Accident compensation lawyer and Victoria University law lecturer John Miller said last night the problem with suing over dioxin or getting ACC cover was proving its link to diseases like cancer, but he was "heartened" by the study.
"We'll certainly be looking very closely at the cases we've got and any others that will come our way, as to what can be done to get compensation."
The study of 24 current and former Paritutu residents found older men and women, especially those aged 65 or over, had the highest levels of the poison tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). Women aged 65 and over had three times the national average of TCDD, while in men over 65 the figure was almost five times the national average.
The study said the elevated levels were due to inhaled exposure from aerial emissions originating from the Ivon Watkins-Dow (now Dow AgroSciences) plant.
Green MP Sue Kedgley yesterday called for immediate Government action to seek compensation, saying the study lifted the lid on "30 years of denial" by the company and government agencies about the plant.
But Associate Health Minister Damien O'Connor said talk of compensation was premature.
He confirmed talks between Dow AgroSciences and the ministry had been held about the study, but said compensation was not discussed.
The study should be finished by the end of the year when the blood of another 20 residents would be analysed. Another study - of New Plymouth cancer rates - should also be finished by the end of the year.
Mr O'Connor said despite numerous studies it was still unclear what health effects were linked to dioxin exposure, although he told Parliament a "small increased health risk cannot be excluded".
However, he later told the Herald that the Government did accept international studies showing dioxin exposure could increase the risk of about 14 different types of cancers.
The Government yesterday announced measures to help local residents, including establishing an office in New Plymouth, a freephone line and a website. GPs around the country have also been given information on the issue.
In Parliament, Mr O'Connor quoted a Herald story yesterday on Paritutu resident Doug West, aged 78, who said: "In my opinion all this talk of dioxin is a load of bullshit."
When Mr O'Connor read the quote out in answer to a question from Ms Kedgley, Speaker Jonathan Hunt ruled the word "bullshit" out of order.
Mr O'Connor was unrepentant about quoting Mr West, saying the comment simply reflected the wide range of opinions on dioxin's effects, even from those who were at risk.
Herald Feature: Dioxin
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By KEVIN TAYLOR