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Health Ministry stands by dioxin test proposal

Media release

15 February 2001

Ministry of Health stands by dioxin blood test proposal

THE Ministry of Health is confident that blood tests to measure dioxin levels among residents who lived near the former Ivon Watkins Dow plant in New Plymouth will be effective.

The blood test survey will be part of a two-pronged response to the health concerns of local residents. The Ministry is also supporting the Taranaki Medical Officer of Health in his investigation into health concerns of local residents.

"We are looking at whether local people have been exposed to dioxin and, if so, what the health risks may be. We need to establish facts - and blood tests for dioxin will give us a good basis from which to work. Once we have information, we will have pointers about what further steps may be necessary to address the health concerns of local residents," said Director of Public Health Dr Don Matheson.

"The usefulness of blood tests has been questioned by some people but we are confident that this is a sound method for assessing dioxin levels. Such work has already been done effectively in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world," Dr Matheson said.

The issue of blood tests was initially raised at a 1999 public meeting with concerned residents and was endorsed by an international expert on dioxin exposure. The Ministry is committed to working with residents to resolve any issues or doubts they have.

"The Ministry believes it is important that residents have confidence in the methods being used and we will consult with them and discuss all their concerns in detail before any testing proceeds," Dr Matheson said.

Dr Matheson said the health risk of trace-level dioxins is in the cumulative build up in the body over a long period of time and that dioxin accumulates in fatty tissue. He said blood contains a significant fraction of fat and when it is tested, it is actually the fat in the blood that is analysed.

"Any dioxin detected using this method can be used to calculate total body burden of dioxin," Dr Matheson said.

It has been suggested that the concerned Taranaki residents should have tests conducted on fatty tissues rather than blood but the Ministry believes there are very good reasons why blood tests are the best way to test for dioxin in a population study of the type proposed:

blood testing enables a wide cross section of people to be easily included.

a recent population-based blood study in New Zealand will provide data that can be used to directly compare with the people tested in Taranaki.

Similarly, many overseas studies have been based on blood tests and may also provide comparison data.

using tests on tissues such as fat would severely and un-necessarily limit the study because it is likely fewer people would participate in the

study and appropriate comparison groups would not be as readily available.

For further information contact; Angus Barclay, Media Advisor, Ministry of Health Tel: 04- 496-2067 Internet Address; http://www.moh.govt.nz


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