Agent Orange: The Toxic Legacy of Polychlorinated Pesticides

Orange Witness

Directed by Andrew Nisker

Film Review

This film about the devastating health effects of the herbicides 2,4 D, 2,4,5-T and TCDD (aka dioxin) is narrated by survivors of toxic exposures in Vietnam, Oregon, Ontario and New Plymouth New Zealand.

It begins with footage of US aircraft blanketing the jungles of Vietnam with Agent Orange, a jungle defoliant consisting mainly of dioxin. In most cases, the latter is manufactured by combining 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. Among US GIs and Vietnamese civilians, extensive Agent Orange exposure led to epidemic levels of cancer and neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as three generations of birth defects. There is no safe level of dioxin exposure.

The film notes that New Zealand was one of the first countries to use dioxin extensively to clear brush in the late 1940s. It was manufactured right here in New Plymouth by the Dow subsidiary Ivan Watkins Dow. Up until 1987, IWD contaminated the air, water and people of the Paratutu area with with TCDD emissions, producing massive numbers of birth defects, miscarriages, crib deaths, brain and spinal tumors, sarcomas, lymphomas, prostate and respiratory cancers and multiple sclerosis, as well as neurodevelopmental (mainly autism, Asperger’s disorder, mental retardation and ADHD) problems. See New Zealand’s Love Canal

Dioxin was also used extensively throughout the US and Canada to keep roads, railroads and high voltage power lines free of trees and weeds. During the 1960s, Black Flag sold TCDD over-the-counter in garden shops.

Although 2,4,5-T and TCDD have since been banned in most industrialized countries, most still allow 2,4-D use in farms and in gardens despite its link to cancer.


*Herbicides 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D)- and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T)

Film can be viewed free on Beamafilm.

https://beamafilm-com.eznewplymouth.kotui.org.nz/watch/orange-witness

Shutting Down the Petroleum Conference

blockade

 

Two hundred of us blocked all the entrances to the New Zealand Petroleum Conference for five hours yesterday.

Some great video footage at the Greenpeace website below.

Source: The People’s Climate Rally – 21st – 23rd March 2017

Campaigning Against Roundup in New Plymouth

roundup1

 

Last night Green Party MP Stephen Browning and I presented a petition to the New Plymouth District Council Policy Committee asking them to cease spraying Roundup in our streets and parks. Here’s an excerpt from Taranaki Daily News:

Council Asked to Remove Possible Cancer-Causing Herbicides from Urban Areas

There are concerns about the health effects of Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller being used in urban areas by New Zealand councils. The New Plymouth District Council is considering its continued use of Roundup in urban areas.

The common weed killer contains glyphosate, a compound which many studies have linked to a raft of health issues, include infertility and cancer, Green Party MP Steffan Browning said.

Browning was campaigning throughout New Zealand to convince local authorities of alternative options to the spray, and to continue to put pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a review of how dangerous it really was to human health.

“We’re really focused on getting it out of urban areas,” he said.

Browning addressed councillors at Tuesday’s policy committee meeting, encouraging them to reconsider the harm they could be doing to their community.

He said there had not been enough independent research into the effects of glyphosate but the World Health Organisation declared it a “probable carcinogen” in March 2015.

Read more here

Anti-TPPA Protestors Shut Down Central Auckland

I and eleven other New Plymouth protesters have just returned from shutting down central Auckland during the TPPA signing yesterday.

While 15,000+ protesters marched down Queens Street, 1500 of us engaged in roving blockades shutting down all the streets leading into Central Auckland for four hours. The streets were deserted as we occupied key intersections and boogied to reggae music. It was surreal – reclaiming the streets for a giant street party. Several hundred blockaders briefly shut down the freeway and the Harbour Bridge.

The public response has been phenomenal with hundreds of new activists joining our movement to block TPPA ratification.

 

 

Here’s the coverage from RT:

 

TPPA Walk Away Protest 15 Aug, 2015

An estimated 25,000 marched on Saturday to block New Zealand’s participation in the secret Transpacific Partnership Agreement (aka TPP or TPPA). Kiwis are really sick of being dictated to by the United States

Three hundred people marched in New Plymouth, the largest protest since I’ve lived here.

TPPA national

michael rileyTPPA speaker

For more information read Taranaki Daily News

Local Currency Update: Opting Out of the Bankster Money System

According to the Guardian, renewable energy provider Good Energy has agreed to accept the Bristol pound in payment for electricity and gas bills. The company claims to be the first in the world to accept payments in local currency. Bristol residents already use the Bristol pound to pay for groceries, bus fares and council tax (ie real estate taxes).

The Bristol Pound is an alternative currency launched in 2012 to help keep cash in the local community, as opposed to the deep pockets of multinational corporations.

Run as a not-for-profit partnership with Bristol Credit Union, the Bristol pound is the first city-wide local currency in the UK and the largest alternative to Britain’s national currency (pounds sterling). There are approximately 750,000 Bristol pounds in circulation.

Local or complementary currencies are an ideal way for communities to opt out of the corporate money system. Their use has expanded exponentially since the 2008 downturn, especially in European countries like Greece, Italy and Spain. Devastating austerity cuts have left millions in southern Europe with no access to euros, the official currency.

My town New Plymouth has their own local currency, the New Plymouth talent, though it’s not as widely circulated as the Bristol pound. We also have a Time Bank (which I’ve just joined), which allows members to earn time credits providing services for other members. They can use these credits (instead of money) to purchase services from other members. It’s a great alternative for unemployed, retired and disabled residents who are short on cash due to the economic downturn.

My Submission on Sand Mining

black sand

New Plymouth is the largest metropolitan area in Taranaki, a region that is world renowned for its pristine black sands and fantastic fishing and surfing. The sands are black due to a large concentration of iron and believe it or not, an Australian company wants to come in and dig up the seabeds to mine for iron to sell to China. And our current National government wants to give them a $15 million research and development grant to help them do it.

Taranaki submitted more than 4,000 written submission opposing seabed mining, and some of us followed up with an oral submission. The New Zealand Environmental Protection Agency held hearings in New Plymouth today. This was my oral submission:

I’m a 10 year resident of Taranaki and a naturalised New Zealand citizen. I’m also a taxpayer and a ratepayer.* I’m here today because I’m really worried about the effect seabed sand mining will have on my community. Especially after watching the destructive effect caused by the explosion of fracking wells across our region.

The people of Taranaki have been fighting seabed mining for nearly a decade. The coalition opposing seabed mining makes for some pretty unlikely bedfellows and includes environmentalists and sustainability advocates, surfers, commercial fishermen, tourism operators and ratepayers.

We are all concerned about the negative environmental consequences I mention in my written submission. We are concerned that Trans Tasman Resources have no proven track record with this type of operation. Because the technology being proposed has never been done anywhere in the world, there is no certainty over short and long term impacts. And we’re fed up with being used as guinea pigs by foreign corporations.

Many people in Taranaki worry that their livelihoods will be affected by sand mining, especially fishermen, surfers and tourism operators. One thing we know for sure is that the sediment plume created by sand mining will negatively impact microplankton that are vital to the food chain for all marine life.

Surfers – surfing is a business in Taranaki and not just a recreational pursuit – are concerned that seabed mining will alter the architecture of Taranaki’s renowned wave swells that are important tourist attraction.

Ratepayers are tired of foreign corporations promising us that they will bring new jobs and wealth to our community. But once they set up operation we find out that the jobs are temporary jobs that are mostly taken by people from somewhere else and all the wealth ends up overseas or in Auckland. And the community as a whole ends up poorer, as we lose our small businesses, our property values plummet and our rates increase to pay for the new infrastructure we have to build to accommodate overseas corporations.

There is a very strong environmental community in Taranaki which is very concerned about two endangered species resident off our coast: the Maui Dolphin and the Blue Whale. These two species are on the verge of being wiped out. Disrupting the food chain that supports them could be the event that tips them over.

We’re also really tired of being a sacrifice zone at the mercy of foreign loot and pollute corporations.

We believe it’s wrong to ask us to sacrifice our small businesses and quality of life to foreign corporations. And we have absolutely no confidence in foreign corporations regulating themselves. We’ve already been through that scenario with the negative affect on our farming community. You wake up one morning discover that your well water has been contaminated or your kids are getting sick from the constant noise or fumes and find that you can’t get insurance on your land and you can’t sell it.

You go to your district and regional council for help and suddenly you discover there’s no regulatory regime to monitor these foreign corporations. And no one to make them assume liability for any damage they cause.

Unlike other industrialized countries, in New Zealand foreign corporations are left to regulate themselves and people victimized by them are out of luck. Groups such as Kiwis Against Seabed Mining are denied funding to get expert advice to scrutinize and oppose TTR’s application under the New Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act, while the National Government promises TTR a $15 million research and development grant if the project goes ahead.

We feel there’s something terribly wrong with the government’s priorities. They should be supporting healthy vibrant local economies and not foreign corporations at the expense of New Zealand residents.

*In New Zealand property taxes are referred to as “rates.”

 

photo credit: mpeacey via photopin cc

New Plymouth Hits the Street

NP TPPAphoto by Moana Williams

Thousands marched in New Zealand’s nationwide mobilization against the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on March 29, with more than a thousand in Auckland, 400 in Wellington, 200 in Hamilton and Nelson, 125 in Whangarei, 100 each in Tauranga, Napier, Christchurch and Dunedin, 80 in Palmerston North and New Plymouth, and 30 in Invercargill. For a small town like New Plymouth, protests this size are rare, and it got good coverage in the Taranaki Daily Newsl

The TPPA is a free trade agreement which is currently 12 countries, including the US and New Zealand, are currently negotiating behind closed doors. Up to this point, the other 11 countries have caved in to US demands that the text of the TPPA be kept secret until it’s signed. About a month ago the Malaysian government  government announced they would release the text before signing it.
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According to draft text released by Wikileaks, the new treaty would allow corporations to sue countries in a private tribunal for any laws that interfere with their ability to do business. In New Zealand, this would undermine our access to cheap generic medication, environmental and labor regulations and reduce Internet freedom.

Like NAFTA and the WTO (World Trade Organization), the TPPA only helps corporations – it’s a pretty shitty deal for ordinary Americans.

C’mon Americans we need your support in stopping Obama from turning the global economy over to Monsanto. Go to http://www.exposethetpp.org/ to find out how you can help.

NZ’s Dioxin Legacy: Lies and Cover-up

dioxin

The the long battle to get the New Zealand government to acknowledge the major health problems of dioxin-exposed New Plymouth residents (see my last post) first began in 1973. Instead of attempting to understand and address residents’ health problems, the New Zealand government, an Ivon Watkins Dow (IWD) partner though share holdings and subsidies, became the first clients of New Zealand’s first public relations firm (Consultus).

Records show that Consultus was first hired to ensure the ongoing availability and use of 2,4,5-T. A 1981 case study from the international journal PR News – about Consultus’ first PR campaign – is entitled  Countering an Activist Campaign to Have a Product Banned from Use. This “media management” response seems to be very typical of New Zealand’s approach to toxic waste management. In the words of one IWD survivor, the goal is to “delay and deny until we die.”

In the mid to late nineties, local activist Andrew Gibbs helped found a new research group, the Paritutu Dioxin Investigation Network. When his de facto partner, a long term resident of Paritutu (the suburb closest to IWD) developed chronic fatigue syndrome and unexplained anemia, her family and friends informed him of the reproductive and immune problems other Paritutu families were experiencing.

Gibbs, alarmed by 1985 Paritutu studies showing dioxin residues comparable to Vietnamese regions sprayed with Agent Orange, tried to get the government to do blood tests on his partner and other Paritutu residents. It would turn out that both National and Labour governments were far more interested in managing public opinion about dioxin.

The Government Gives in to Grassroots Pressure

In 2001, Minister of Health Annette King finally agreed to test the serum levels of 100 Paritutu survivors. When many were found to have elevated dioxin levels, the Labour-led government responded by setting up a Ministry of Health unit to manage “financial risks” related to potential government liability.

Spin, Cover-up, and Statistical Manipulation

They subsequently commissioned a 2004-2005 study by Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) to “analyze” Taranaki District Health Board cancer and birth defect records. The researchers subjected the data to some bizarre statistical manipulations to produce the conclusion the government was looking for, i.e. that high rates of cancer and birth defects in Paritutu and Motorua households were unrelated to dioxin exposure.

For example, they deliberately re-targeted the study design to focus on residents living in Paritutu between 1974-87, who were known to have lower exposure levels based production changes between 1969 and 1973 that reduced dioxin contamination. They also altered 2005 data to make it appear that ongoing exposure occurred between 1974-87, as well as using inaccurate half-life figures to skew pre-1974 results. Finally they excluded high rates of diagnosed cancer between 1970-74 as being too close to the period of toxic exposure, which they misrepresented as occurring between 1962-87, when it actually occurred between 1960-73. See (*) below for actual data.

When these statistical manipulations were challenged in a 2006 TV3 documentary entitled “Let us Spray,” the government and their risk management unit dismissed the bulk of the alleged misrepresentations and blamed others on “typographical” errors.

New Zealand health officials also repeatedly ignored recommendations by ESR and the local ethics review board that they undertake a geo-spatial study of families with elevated dioxin levels. Gibbs eventually undertook his own study of all residents living within 500 meters of Ivon Watkins Dow between 1963-66. He achieved his primary goal – proving that a historical cohort could be identified – at a total cost of $1000. This was in contrast to the hundreds of millions of dollars the New Zealand government had paid Consultus, ESR, their “financial risk” management unit.

The Government Compromise: Free Health Checks

Gibbs continues to fight to get Dow and the New Zealand government to acknowledge the health problems of Paritutu and Motorua residents who worked at or lived adjacent to IWD prior to 1969. In 2008, the government finally granted Paritutu survivors three free health checks (primary care isn’t covered under New Zealand’s National Health Service).

Gibbs dismisses the government move as a PR ploy. Mainly because it circumvents the issue of intergenerational effects (i.e. birth defects in subsequent generations). A 2006 study showed that New Zealand veterans and their offspring suffered DNA damage as a result of dioxin (Agent Orange) exposure in Vietnam.

The Cover-up that Cost More Than the Truth

The question yet to be answered is why the New Zealand government was so determined to cover all this up. Why spend millions of dollars on PR consultants, a “financial risk” management unit, flawed research and a vexatious Broadcast Standards Authority (BSA) complaint – when it would have cost far less to treat the health problems of 500 New Plymouth households.

Gibbs believes an official government admission of dioxin-related health problems would open them to liability – both from New Zealand veterans and Vietnamese civilians exposed to Agent Orange. Because the New Zealand government was a shareholder, as well as subsidizing 2,4,5-T production from 1969 on, they are co-liable with IWD.

***

*A look at the Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) 2002 data reveals a large increase in neural tube birth defects in Moturoa and Paritutu residents between 1965 and 1972. It also reveals that New Plymouth rates of hydrocephaly, hypospadias, spina bifida and anencephaly recorded at New Plymouth Maternity Hospital between 1965 and 1971 were respectively 3.2 times, 3.8 times, 4.2 times and 9.7 times the crude rates found in offspring of US Vietnam veterans:

“The 1966-1972 rate of still-births was 1 in 7 versus the expected N.Z rate of 1.1 still-birth in 100 births. The 1966-72 rate of linked NTD (neural tube development) defects was 1 in 10.5 vs the N.Z range of 1 NTD in 222 to 1 NTD in 400. The 1966-72 rate of birth defect cases was *1 in 7 versus the N.Z expected rate of 1 case in 50 births  This conservative rate is based on the 2002 TDHB review of addresses for only 17 of 167 birth defect cases 1965-70 so does not include the other 150 defects or three defects reported by Zone A mothers.” (from link and PDF).

The TDHB data also reveals a significant increase in 1976-85 cancer rates living within 500 meters of IWD in 1963-1966:

“From a Study of 165 Paritutu Zone A 1963-1966 residents living within a 500 metres of Ivon Watkins Building 03 plant:

“1976-85 rate of 0-64 year age group cancer mortality was 4.5 times expected. Five deaths where 1.1 was expected based on mean of 1976 and 1985 NZ census rates. Four of the 5 deaths were in 1981 and 1982. Two in five NZ 1976-85 cancer deaths were in 0-64 ages. All five Zone A cancer deaths were in 0-64 ages. Two 1981 cancer deaths were parents aged 35 and 48 of 1969 and 1970 miscarriage and still-birth cases. There were 13 deaths 1976-85 for Zone A 1963-66 residents with 13.4 all cause deaths expected, 5 were cancer deaths with 2.9 expected and there were 3 lung cancer mortalities where less than 1 was expected (link).”

For more background and historical documents, go to Paritutu Inside the Spin: How the New Zealand Government Rewrote History

photo credit: pixiduc via photopin cc

New Zealand’s Love Canal

ivon watkins dow

(Note: this post should be of particular concern to Americans, as Dow is trying to get the USDA to approve a dioxin-related toxin, 2,4-D, as a weedkiller)

“I have long dreamed of buying an island owned by no nation and of establishing the world headquarters of the Dow company on truly neutral ground of such an island, beholden to no nation or society.” Dow chairman Carl Gerstacker 1972 (Exporting Environmentalism).

It’s fairly common for the US and other European countries to ask New Zealand, owing to our lax environmental regulations, to manufacture and or test hazardous substances that are too controversial in their own countries. The issue is of special concern to me as a New Plymouth resident. I have numerous friends and former patients who have had their health and lives ruined by the government’s refusal to oversee or regulate the activities of Dow AgroSciences (formerly known as Ivon Watkins Dow).*

IWD produced extremely hazardous dioxin-related compounds between 1948 and 1987. After World War II, chlorinated hydrocarbons (aka organochlorines), such as 2,3,7,8 TCDD (dioxin), 2,4,5-T and 2,4 D  were developed as herbicides (weed killers). Dioxin, also known as Agent Orange, was extensively sprayed during the Vietnam War to expose guerrilla positions by defoliating the jungles. The damaging health effects of these compounds were noted in many returning GIs and Vietnamese civilians and their children and grandchildren.

As early as 1957, the New Zealand Royal Society cautioned that these toxins needed to be thoroughly investigated, owing to the potential hazard they posed to human health. The warning went unheeded. In the 1950s and 1960s, New Zealanders experienced the highest per capita exposure to DDT and related pesticides and 2,4,5-T. This appears to be a major culprit in the doubling of New Zealand’s cancer rate between 1960 and 2012 – and the halving of Kiwi sperm counts between 1987 and 2007. This drop is the most dramatic in the developed world. Neither Australia nor the US have experienced a comparable decline in sperm counts.

All kinds of alarm bells should have been going off, given the staggering increase in birth defects in families downwind of IWD. Between 1965-1971, one out of thirty newborns at New Plymouth’s Maternity Hospital had birth defects. These included a strikingly high proportion of the neural tube defects commonly associated with dioxin exposure, such as anencephaly (the absence of a brain), hydrocephalus and spina bifida.

Cancer, Infertility and Toxic Breast Milk

Meanwhile New Zealand’s overall birth defect rate was one of the highest in the world. During the 60s and 70s, everyone ingesting New Zealand meat and dairy products accumulated substantial blood and fatty tissue concentrations of dioxin, owing to the massive amount of 2,4,5-T Kiwi farmers used to clear gorse and scrub. In 1961, the US banned New Zealand beef exports, owing to excessive residues of chlorinated hydrocarbons, such as DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, and BHC.

Even more alarming, a 1972-73 study of Dunedin infants published in the Lancet revealed that breast milk (which also accumulates dioxin) was less healthy than formula. In a survey of 1000 children, those breastfed four weeks or longer were twice as likely to suffer from allergies or asthma in later childhood.

The US Bans 2,4,5-T

In 1969, IWD upgraded their 2,4,5-T plant’s “rudimentary” emission controls to reduce dioxin levels in their air emissions and the herbicide they produced. From 1973 on, after the US banned 2,4,5-T in all food crops except rice, the NZ government required IWD to treat their herbicide with a solvent that reduced dioxin levels even further.  Both national and regional agencies were charged with monitoring the dioxin content of IWD’s incinerator emissions. However according to available records, monitoring was limited and sporadic.

Cancer Rates Climb

Meanwhile overseas studies continued to link dioxin exposure to many of the same health problems New Plymouth residents were describing. In addition to birth defects, miscarriages, crib deaths and chronic childhood illnesses, downwind families were experiencing unprecedented levels of brain and spinal tumors, sarcomas, lymphomas, prostate and respiratory cancers and multiple sclerosis, as well as neurodevelopmental (mainly autism, Asperger’s disorder, mental retardation and ADHD) problems in their kids

IWD Shuts Down Dioxin Production in 1987

Finally in 1987, in response to massive local pressure and scores of studies documenting dioxin-related health problems, Ivon Watkins Dow (IWD) shut down all 2,4,5-T production. It’s of note this occurred without Dow or the New Zealand government acknowledging any negative health effects from dioxin exposure. Former IWD employees and residents in close proximity to IWD were left with a legacy of chronic health problems – and nowhere to turn for help.

*While Ivon Watkins (incorporated in 1944) prided itself on research and development geared towards New Zealand conditions, several major international chemical firms had substantial financial interest in the company including Monsanto (USA), the American Chemical Paint Company (USA), Geigy (Switzerland), Cela (Germany) and the Union Carbide Corporation (USA). Solidifying such connections, the company became Ivon Watkins-Dow Ltd (IWD) in 1964 after Dow Chemicals USA bought a 50% interest (Sewell 1978 – see http://www.dioxinnz.com/pdf-NZ-RAD/RAD-Thesis-BWC.pdf).

For more background and historical documents, go to Paritutu Inside the Spin: How the New Zealand Government Rewrote History

To be continued.

photo credit: PhillipC via photopin cc