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Turia: Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Bill

Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (Approvals and Enforcement) Amendment Bill

Tariana Turia,

Member of Parliament for Te Tai Hauauru

Wednesday 14 December 2005

Madam Speaker, I stand today, considering the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (Approvals and Enforcement) Amendment Bill within the context of kaupapa and tikanga Maori.

As the caretakers of Ranginui and Papatuanuku, we have the responsibility to care for and actively protect the environment which includes our whanau and the flora and fauna which clothe this land of ours.

It is a question of values, and of preferences. And it is a question of what we are willing to pay, to ensure that this country, we call Aotearoa, maintains its ability to be clean and green.

The aim of the Bill is to improve the workability of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act. It includes specific proposals to address enforcement, and regulation of tolerable exposure limits and environmental exposure limits and groups various substances together.

These are issues which are of prime importance to us in our commitment towards ensuring genuine progress for the management and care of the environment.

In this regard, we have been supportive of the concept of a Genuine Progress Index which has currency in both the international scene, and in initiatives being considered by a number of local authorities.

The Genuine Progress Index, GPI, distinguishes between positive contributions to progress (ensuring that toxins and hazardous substances are strictly tested and regulated) and negative activity (the polluting of our land, our waterways and our people).

What has it cost this country, in terms of the health, or is it the ill-health, of the land, the waterways and the people?

Would it not be more cost-effective to ensure that pollution and the use of toxins, the effect of which is not clearly known, is thoroughly tested before becoming available for widespread use?

Do I need to remind any one in this House of what happened on the night of 2 December 1984 to the hundreds of thousands of people who were devastated as a result of the activities of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, central India?

It is over twenty years since tank 610 spewed out a deadly cocktail of methyl isocyanate (MIC) and 23 other chemicals, manifest in a cloud of poisonous gas.

Those injured by the gas are indistinguishable from those who escaped. Their lungs and immune systems suffered, but apart from eye problems like cataracts, they received few visible injuries, unlike the victims of other disasters such as Thalidomide or Agent Orange.

Government officials say around 6,600 died from the effects of the gas and 350,000 were injured, but local pressure groups put the death toll at 16,000, and say up to 600,000 people were injured.

Powerful, commercial interests ensured that these workers were denied justice. In many cases, throughout the world we have seen how those with interests in the chemical and toxic industry, who in my view should have been prosecuted for the hundreds of thousands of people that they have maimed, and they have been protected.

We don’t have to look very far here at home to see evidence of other tragic examples. In the Waiariki electorate, Sawmill Workers Against Poisons have led the charge against those responsible for the chemicals workers handled throughout their sawmill careers from the 1960s to the 1980s.

The worst chemical of the lot, pentachlorophenol, or PCP, was used to prevent sapstain - a fungal infection - in freshly sawn timber from the 1960s right through until 1988. It was absorbed through the skin of many workers, affecting various systems in the body.

The dioxins in PCP are toxic, causing health problems from severe skin rashes to liver damage and possibly cancer. The members of SWAP, say they have been exposed to 48 chemicals throughout their working lives.

The Maori Party will stand, and continue to stand strong, until we can see action to address the inexplicable cancers, ulcers and other health conditions suffered by those who worked the forestry and sawmills, sites contaminated by PCP.

This could be immediate and simple, such as providing full, free and regular medical checkups for ex-sawmill workers from the Whakatane, Kawerau, Kinleith and Waipa sawmills and their families.

As Member for Te Tai Hauauru, I am also painfully aware of the need for urgent action to address the adverse health effects such as cancers and birth deformities reported from Taranaki residents living near the Ivon Watkins Dow (now Dow AgroSciences) chemical plant in Paritutu.

It is an outrage that the latest government report released just two days ago by the Ministry of Health into cancer rates in New Plymouth, failed to follow a robust process to ensure that any findings as to what happened in Paritutu would have any integrity.

The report released two days ago sadly does not.

Last September a report released by that same Ministry confirmed that the Ivon Watkins Dow plant at Paritutu was one of the largest historical polluters in New Zealand.

The Ministry chose to ignore the recommendations that for any study about Paritutu to be valid, one would have to identify the actual residents who were exposed and track them down.

Instead, the study adopted a scatter-gun approach towards testing anyone in New Plymouth. A responsible approach would have tracked down the families who were exposed at key periods in the seventies. Many of these families have now shifted away, but the impact of their compromised health will remain, and of course, many have died.

Here we are today, talking about the approvals and enforcement that is required to ensure that Hazardous Subtances and New Organisms undergo rigorous and consistent assessment, prior to entry into New Zealand.

Something that the management of Ivon Watkins Dow plant failed to do.

My constituents have repeatedly asked the Government to take seriously the health problems that have resulted from dioxin contamination, including birth defects, behavioural problems, diabetes and a strong association between exposure to dioxin and cancer risk.

We are talking about a period of thirty years of neglect.

Perhaps, as Ross Wilson, the President of the Council of Trade Unions has previously suggested, that it might be time to introduce a corporate manslaughter provision in our criminal law so that offenders can be held to account.

How many lives have been lost?

Sadly, corporates who are not socially responsible entities, have a reputation of denying any responsibility for products that they may use to increase what they refer to as the “return to the shareholder”.

The shareholder must be our society and its citizens, not just those who have invested in a corporate entity.

We still have issues with the Bill including the basis of the groupings for Group Standards. The rationale for having group standards is so that we can save two million dollars.

It would be of great interest to the Maori Party if this Parliament was able to be briefed, using the Land Transport New Zealand's 'Value of a Statistical Life' calculation, about the real benefits, the genuine progress, that we can expect from this new measure.

This calculation estimated that each suicide cost a total of two million, nine hundred and thirty one thousand; two hundred and fifty dollars.

That is the statistical value of one life.

When one considers the number of lives that have been lost or seriously affected as a result of what happened at Paritutu, Whakatane, the impact of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans, the impact of those naval personnel involved in supporting the British atmospheric tests at Christmas and Malden Islands, during Operation Grapple - and all their descendants and families - two million dollars is a miniscule amount to be saving.

These communities deserve to have effective health care and recognition of the disasterous impact of the corporate manslaughter that they have endured; and which many Governments have turned a blind eye to.

This country must never allow such damage to its citizens, to its land, to its environment, to ever occur again - whether by accident or by design.

To this end, we live in hope that socially responsible behaviour is encouraged by this Bill.

That people will not, knowingly, attempt to import products which they know are hazardous substances which put the health of the citizens and the environment at risk.

Thank you.


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