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Interim report on blood dioxin study made public

Media Release

9 September 2004

Interim report on blood dioxin study made public

Interim results of state-of-the-art tests carried out for some long term residents in the New Plymouth suburb of Paritutu have shown a higher than normal level of dioxin in their blood.

The report on the test results, made public today, says this is most likely to be from breathing in aerial emissions originating from the former Ivon Watkins Dow plant.

The Ministry of Health says that the results and supporting information have already been given to as many as possible of the 24 residents who took part in the study.

Acting Director of Public Health Dr Doug Lush emphasised the study results were so far only interim, and that about another 20 people would now be tested in the second stage of the study. This should be completed in the next three to four months.

"The additional information the second stage gives us will help us work out what else needs to be done. We will certainly be continuing to work with the community, as we have done throughout the study. At the same time we will be working with doctors and scientists to find the most useful form of any further study, and we will be working with a range of other Government agencies," Dr Lush said.

Dr Lush said there had been major advances internationally in measuring dioxin. "The difficulty is that while we can now measure tiny amounts of dioxin - and we're talking trillionths - we can't be nearly as precise in interpreting what it means.

"What we can say with certainty is that blood-testing 24 long term residents most likely to have been exposed to dioxin showed an average level higher than that in the general New Zealand population," Dr Lush, acting Director of Public Health, said.

The dioxin "family" includes a number of chemicals. Most come from burning or are byproducts of chemical processes.

Dr Lush said there was some evidence that high levels of dioxin may increase the risk for some types of cancers, and he realised that many people who lived in the Paritutu community before 1987 would be concerned.

" I realise that these results offer nothing certain or solid for people who lived for a long time in Paritutu. I recognise also that it's not very satisfactory for them to get results like these without a clear indication of what they might mean, but it is important that we make public the information the testing has given us. I hope that the steps we are taking to provide the people of Paritutu with as much information and support as we can will help allay their concerns."

Dr Lush said as a first step, prior to completion of the second part of the study, the Ministry had set up an 0800 number 0800 555 567 where people could get extra information from trained staff.

People who have concerns are encouraged to contact their local Medical Officer of Health. In New Plymouth the Ministry of Health and Taranaki District Health Board have established a specific office where concerned people can get assistance and discuss any further concerns with a Medical Officer of Health. People can make appointments by ringing the Public Health Unit in Taranaki on 06 7537798.

"We have also set up a comprehensive website."

"I must stress that people who have lived in other areas, or who lived in Parirutu after 1987, have not been exposed to dioxins in the way that those in the study have been."

Dr Lush said participants in the study were given their results this morning in a series of personal visits. A doctor or nurse went on each visit to answer any questions and give health information. The Ministry of Health had also sought permission to brief participants' family doctors, and as well was circulating all GPs with advice and information about the study.

He said the Ministry of Health commissioned the testing after consultation with the Paritutu community about their longstanding concerns.

ESR - contracted by the Ministry to carry out the study - identified a number of people living near the former IWD plant and most likely to show a higher dioxin level. They collected blood samples from 24 people and tested them. The results were evaluated by Axys, a Canadian laboratory which is one of the few in the world accredited by the World Health Organisation for this type of work.

"Of particular interest to us is a specific dioxin, TCDD, which was present in the herbicide 245T manufactured until 1987," Dr Lush said. The tests showed elevated levels of TCDD, which the report said could not be explained by emissions from the incinerator at the former IWD plant.

"There is no agreement on how much TCDD in the body may cause health problems. There is, however, agreement that it is better to minimise the level of TCDD in the body.

"I need to reiterate that the report we are making public today is interim only. Once completed the study should provide us with a much clearer idea of where we need to focus our energies in dealing with this."

Dr Lush said as well as advising participants and briefing GPs and the Taranaki District Health Board the Ministry had also briefed other interested groups including representatives of Residents Associations, local bodies and others.

The Ministry of Health is also working with a range of other Government agencies to consider an overall response to all the chemicals known as organochlorines which are harmful to human health and the environment.

In summary the Ministry of Health:

is completing the Serum Dioxin Study
is conducting a study of certain cancer incidence and mortality in New Plymouth
has set up 0800 555 567 to provide information and answer queries
is making local Medical Officers of Health available to discuss people's concerns
has provided all General Practitioners with information
is ensuring personal follow-up for people who were tested as part of Part 1 of the study
is following up with community groups about future actions
is coordinating of a whole of Government response to organochlorines issues.

For a copy of the full report see:

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