Massey University research showing the long-term effects of exposure to pentachlorophenol (PCP) vindicates the tireless efforts of an advocacy group for sawmill workers, Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell says.
The research into exposure to the wood preservative, released yesterday, showed some former timber workers had twice as much dioxin in their blood as people who lived next door to the New Plymouth's 345-T pesticide plant.
"As cumulative exposure (to PCP) increased, there was also increased prevalence of neuro-psychological symptoms, including memory loss, depression and tiredness," lead investigator Dave McLean said.
Mr Flavell said the research from vindicated the tireless efforts of Joe Harawira, Gwenda Paul and other Sawmill Workers Against Poison (SWAP) advocates in bringing public attention to the health problems of former timber workers exposed to PCP.
"SWAP suggests that more than 600 former sawmills used the same chemicals, chemicals which have been proven to have adverse effects on our lands, our rivers, the wellbeing of our people," he said.
"And what SWAP also revealed was that 85 per cent of the workers from the Whakatane site are Maori."
Mr Flavell said he hoped the report would encourage timber workers to talk to their GP, or ask for help in health monitoring or making an ACC claim.
"And, of course, we will be awaiting announcements for compensation from the Government, from the manufacturers of the poison and the people who have exploited the labour of these workers," he said.
PCP was often contaminated by some types of dioxin during manufacture and was banned in 1998 for its toxic effects on people.
Dioxins - known to increase the risk of cancer - spread into the environment from the Ivon Watkins-Dow chemical plant, now called Dow Agrosciences, when it was making the herbicide 245-T from 1962 to 1987.
Associate Health Minister Damien O'Connor this week said the Government acknowledged people who lived around the plant in the suburb of Paritutu, New Plymouth, "may potentially have been exposed to harm" from dioxins, and offered them lifetime health checks.
The Health Ministry is reported to be considering whether similar health checks should be offered to timber workers who worked with PCP.
When the researchers compared mortality in sawmill workers exposed to PCP with sawmill workers who weren't exposed, they found a 40 per cent increase in the risk of death from cancer for PCP-exposed workers.
The researchers also found a 200 to 300 per cent increase in deaths from chronic non-cancerous respiratory disease in PCP-exposed workers - a new discovery which may have been caused by workplace contaminants other than PCP.