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Dow’s Claims “Plain Wrong”

Fri, 10 Sep 2004

Dow’s Claims “Plain Wrong”

Dow has international history of avoiding liability

Auckland 10-Sep-2004 – The claim made by Dow Agrosciences that the dioxin levels detected in Paritutu residents are not high enough to be harmful is plain wrong, Greenpeace said today. The company also has a history of avoiding liability across the globe, including at Bhopal.

“The report released yesterday by the Ministry of Health confirms that the levels of dioxins in Paritutu residents are much greater than the safe tolerable daily intake of dioxins identified by the World Health Organisation,” (1) said Greenpeace toxics campaigner Mere Takoko.

“Scientists internationally agree that there is no safe level of dioxin. But the report confirms that the levels found in the Paritutu community were way above WHO levels as well as the New Zealand average. That Dow can say these levels are not harmful is beyond belief,” she said.

Greenpeace points to a Cabinet Paper that was tabled to government officials in 2001. The paper and accompanying reports revealed that 1 in 1,000 New Zealanders are affected by dioxin-related cancers. (2)

“The levels in the Ministry of Health report suggest that the risk of Paritutu residents could be as high as 3 cancers in 100. Statements made by Dow are contradictory to Cabinet Papers tabled in 2001,” said Mr Gordon Jackman, former Chair of Greenpeace New Zealand.

History of Dioxins in New Zealand

In a national health disaster that started in 1948, no other chemical in this country has reached the levels of public exposure and associated health risks as those revealed in the Ministry of Health report. By virtue of this fact, New Zealanders could possibly be the most dioxin-exposed nation in the First World.

The Dow-manufactured chemical 2,4,5 T was used as a chemical defoliant and hormonal spray throughout the country. For example, from the early 1970s, it was used to spray noxious weeds in forests such as the Kaingaroa. It was sprayed by hand by Forest Service workers on a daily basis. Forest workers like other groups exposed to 2,4,5 T were unaware of the extreme risks associated with the chemical.

New Zealand was the last place in the world to stop manufacturing 2,4,5-T – at the Dow plant in New Plymouth in 1987.

“The disaster of Paritutu is a microcosm of what can only be regarded as an act of chemical warfare against New Zealand and New Zealanders. Today, we must all face up to the grim reality of a past that contradicts our image of a clean and green nation,” said Mere Takoko.

Dow incinerator still polluting New Plymouth

Greenpeace is also concerned that Dow Agrosciences Ltd is still polluting New Plymouth. The company was recently exempted from National Air Standards released in June, and operates one of the last remaining high-temperature hazardous waste incinerators, pouring dioxins over the residents of Paritutu. The Taranaki Regional Council allows the incinerator to pump out New Zealand’s highest levels of airborne dioxin releases.

“Local residents should still be concerned of the high dioxin emissions that are still being released by the plant’s high temperature waste incinerator,” said Ms Takoko.

New Zealand’s Bhopal

It is clear from its statements that Dow is already running from claims of liability, despite the clear evidence presented yesterday.

Greenpeace has outlined below the history of Dow’s avoidance of liability worldwide, including compensating the victims of the world’s worst chemical disaster, Bhopal.

“In the face of a national disaster that represents New Zealand’s own Bhopal, once again this company is refusing to accept liability for the harms it has caused this country. If the government is honest about accepting its role in this debacle, then it should make this company pay up,” said Ms Takoko.

Dow: denying liability worldwide

Internationally, Dow is considered to be among the world’s worst chemical companies and has been known for its constant refusal to accept liability for its crimes (3) [See link below for case studies of Dow worldwide].

In what represents the world’s worst industrial disaster, on 3 December 1984, over 20,000 people have died as a result of lethal gases that leaked by a pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, now owned by Dow.

The original company, Union Carbide, finally decided to pay a woefully inadequate $470 million in compensation to the Indian government for the victims to pay medical expenses for five years. The people who were affected by the disaster now live in the shadow of an ongoing environmental and health catastrophe.

In 2001, Union Carbide shed its name by merging with the multinational Dow Chemical for US$9.3 billion. This made Dow the largest chemical company in the world. Yet despite buying Union Carbide's assets - and its liabilities - Dow has refused to accept moral responsibility for the actions of Union Carbide in Bhopal, or even to be accountable for the actions of the company it took over, despite the fact that over 20,000 people in vicinity of the Union Carbide factory continue to be exposed to toxic chemicals through groundwater and soil contamination.

Dow refuses to accept responsibility for the on-going health problems in Bhopal. Nor has it attempted to deal with the large stockpiles of dangerous poisons left behind or the toxic legacy that is still ruining people's lives.

Greenpeace has been working in Bhopal since 1999 when a team of Greenpeace scientists worked with Bhopal community groups to analyse the severity and extent of the contamination on and around the derelict factory site. The study found substantial and, in some locations, severe contamination of land and water supplies with heavy metals and chlorinated chemicals.

(1) Assessment of the health risk of dioxins: re-evaluation of the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) WHO Consultation May 25-29 1998, Geneva, Switzerland *The consultation stressed that the upper range of the TDI of 4 pg TEQ/kg bw should be considered a maximal tolerable intake on a provisional basis and that the ultimate goal is to reduce human intake levels below 1 pg TEQ/kg bw/day.

The consultation also recommended that every effort should be made to limit environmental releases of dioxin and related compounds to the extent feasible in order to reduce their presence in the food chains, thereby resulting in continued reductions in human body burdens. In addition, immediate efforts should be made to specifically target exposure reductions towards more highly exposed sub-populations. http://www.who.int/ipcs/publications/en/exe-sum-final.pdf

(2) Evaluation of the toxicity of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs: A health risk appraisal for the New Zealand population A report to the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment February 2001 The lifetime cancer risks vary from a range of about 10 in 10,000 to 15 in 10,000 based on the estimated time-weighted dietary intake for a male New Zealander, to a range of 28 in 10,000 to 42 in 10,000 based on the ALDE estimate for the New Zealand population. http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/hazardous/dioxin-evaluation-feb01.pdf

(3) Dow’s international history http://www.greenpeace.org/multimedia/download/1/15643/0/corporatecrimes_en tire.pdf

FURTHER READING ON DIOXINS Report and studies on health effects from Dioxin and other chemicals – Sept 2003 http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/MultimediaFiles/Live/FullReport/5988.pdf

Dioxin elimination: a global imperative – Dr Pat Costner http://archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/reports/dioxelim.pdf

Health effects of exposure to dioxins http://www.greenpeace.org.nz/toxics-map/deadly.htm


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