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Ministry announces dioxin testing plans

11 October 2001

Ministry announces dioxin testing plans

The Ministry of Health today announced that the Institute of Environmental Science and Research will be conducting further work to investigate concerns of potential dioxin exposure by the residents of the Paritutu suburb of New Plymouth.

Deputy Director General of Health, Dr Don Matheson, said he was particularly pleased that the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) would be conducting this research.

"The involvement of ESR in this investigation will provide reassurance to the community that their concerns are being addressed in most scientifically robust manner possible," Dr Matheson said.

Paritutu residents are concerned they were exposed to dioxin from a local agri-chemical plant that produced dioxin from the 1960s to 1987.

ESR plan to conduct the research in two phases; initially finding the potentially most exposed people and then conducting serum testing to determine the level of dioxin carried in their bodies.

Officials from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry for the Environment and ESR met on Tuesday night with the Paritutu Health Liaison Committee to inform the community that ESR would be proceeding with the work.

"It was a very positive meeting, with the representatives of every group present outlining their concerns and their views of whether the planned approach was the best way forward," Dr Matheson said.

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

The work by ESR is a further step in the Ministry of Health's ongoing monitoring of this community.

In August, Dr Patrick O'Connor, Medical Officer of Health for Taranaki, released a report into the health status of Paritutu residents. This showed the community had no higher rates of disease that could be associated with exposure to dioxin than people in other parts of the country.

In September, the Taranaki Regional Council released their report into alleged dumpsites. No evidence of this was found and tested soil levels were found to contain low levels of dioxin.

"We will continue to monitor this community to make sure their concerns are being addressed," 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 residents then asked Health Minister Annette King for this testing to be conducted. On advice from the Ministry of Health, Mrs King gave her approval for the work to go ahead and an assurance that it would be done.

New Zealand is in a unique position as we have information on national serum levels of dioxin and we will be able to make comparisons against these. These levels will also provide a benchmark by which other countries can compare their populations.

The serum levels of dioxins in the bodies of New Zealanders are lower than other developped counties.

For further information Annie Coughlan ph: 04-496-2265 or 025-343 222

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