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Second part of Paritutu study underway

18 November 2004

Second part of Paritutu study underway, says Ministry of Health.

A second group of Paritutu residents have given blood as the final part of a study to investigate non-occupational exposure to dioxins among current and former long-term residents of the New Plymouth suburb.

It is expected that the second part of this study will be completed by the end of February. This follows the release of an interim report in September, which showed higher than average levels of dioxin in the blood of a group of 24 former long-term residents of the suburb.

It was concluded by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), who are doing the study on behalf of the Ministry of Health, that the residents were exposed in the past to dioxin by breathing in aerial emissions from the nearby former Ivon Watkins Dow plant. Ivon Watkins-Dow manufactured the herbicide 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) from 1962 to 1987. A particular type of dioxin (TCDD) is a contaminant of this process.

The study was initially undertaken in response to the community?s concerns relating to uncertainty over whether they were exposed to dioxin as a result of past emissions from IWD, now Dow AgroSciences, and whether health effects have occurred as a result of that exposure.

The interim report concluded that exposure happened to a small group of people living within one kilometre of the plant for a long period, at least 20 years or more, between 1962 and 1987.

Acting Director of Public Health, Dr Doug Lush, said completing the study is important. "We hope that the additional information gained from this second phase of the study will help us to narrow down these time frames but acknowledge it may not add to the information we already have. There is a lot we don't know about the exposures and we will never know,? Dr Lush said.

?The Ministry will continue to ensure that the local community is informed about the study, as we have done to date, and at the same time we will be working with doctors and scientists to interpret any results and work with a range of other Government agencies.?

Dr Lush said there was some evidence that high levels of dioxin 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. However, he hoped that the steps being taken by the Ministry of Health and the Local Medical Officer of Health and Public Health Service to provide the people of Paritutu with as much information and support as possible would allay their concerns.

The Medical Officer of Health and the Ministry have been providing clinics in Taranaki for concerned people to get assistance and discuss any further concerns about the study, the results or dioxin in general. People are able to make appointments by ringing the Public Health Unit in Taranaki on 06 7537798. Information was given to all general practitioners throughout New Zealand A free phone information line has been operating since the interim report was released on 9 September and has averaged 14 calls a day. A number of those callers are referred on to the clinic.

The freephone number is 0800 555 567. The Ministry also has a comprehensive website with information on dioxins and the study and links to other relevant sites. Also to be completed at the same time is a study into the incidence and mortality of all cancers and specific cancers that have been linked with dioxin exposure by Dr Deborah Read. These specific cancers are rare. They are chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, soft tissue sarcoma, Hodgkin?s disease and non Hodgkin?s lymphoma.

The cancer study is in part a response to the finding in the 1982 Cancer Mortality Atlas of New Zealand, which recorded a higher rate than usual of Hodgkin?s and non-Hodgkin?s lymphoma had occurred in New Plymouth (all New Plymouth not just Paritutu) in the late 1970s.

To help the Ministry answer questions from some residents about birth defects in the past in the Paritutu area, the Ministry of Health is entering and analysing all birth defect data for the years 1980-89 from the NZ Birth Defects Monitoring Programme. Previously this information has only been available on paper files which has limited any comprehensive analysis. These data will be added to the data already entered into the New Zealand Birth Defects Monitoring Programme since 1990 and will provide comparable information.

There is no evidence of increased disease rates in this population due to this exposure to date.

Dr Lush said he also wants to reassure the current residents of the Paritutu community that the suburb is now as safe to live in as any other part of New Zealand


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