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Andrew Gibbs, outside Dow AgroSciences (This is the last of four blogs about the government cover-up of major health problems related to the production of dioxin-related chemicals at Dow AgroSciences in New Plymouth between 1948 and 1987.) “I have long dreamed of buying an island owned by no nation and of establishing the world headquarters of the Dow company on truly neutral ground of such an island, beholden to no nation or society.” Dow chairman Carl Gerstacker 1972 (Exporting Environmentalism). The above comment by the head of Dow in a1972 speech is extremely illuminating. His company came pretty damned close, in essence buying New Zealand, when they bought into Ivon Watkins Dow in 1964. Beyond the statistical manipulations and ethical flaws, the infamous 2004-2005 study in which the New Zealand government proved that dioxin doesn’t cause cancer and birth defects, had serious underlying design flaws: 1. The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) study diluted any measurable effect size by analyzing cancer, mortality and birth defect rates for all of New Plymouth, rather than limiting their analysis to the 500 families living adjacent to Ivon Watkins Dow. In fact the records they examined only included a tiny cohort of residents with heavy dioxin exposure. The seventies, eighties and nineties saw a substantial number of Paritutu/Motorua residents leave New Plymouth – and New Zealand. Neither Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) nor the Minister of Health made any effort to trace them and investigate their health outcomes.
2. Both Ministry of Health and TDHB studies (and a 2008 University of Otago study) used residents from other areas of New Zealand as a control. It has already been well established that all Kiwis experienced massive dioxin exposure (through a largely meat and dairy-based diet) in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, which was accompanied by record birth defect and cancer rates and fertility problems. Surely a more appropriate control group would have been Kiwi urban vegans or residents in developed countries that didn’t employ massive amounts of 2,4,5-T to grow food. Marginalizing and Harassing Local Activists The deliberate marginalization and demonization of local dioxin activists is also a largely untold story. Both complaining residents and members of the Dioxin Investigation Network (DIN) were repeatedly attacked by the Taranaki Daily News (Taranaki News Ltd coincidentally owned 1300 shares in Ivon Watkins Dow) as paranoid alarmists. They also came under attack from New Plymouth District Council and Taranaki Regional Council members for threatening to New Plymouth’s reputation as a “clean, green” tourist destination. This repeated portrayal of local activists and the demands they were making on TDHB as paranoid is evidenced by the ambush visit by the TDHB crisis team to DIN president Andrew Gibbs and a diagnosis of obsessive paranoid schizophrenia. The Government Compromise: Free Health Checks Gibbs, who has recently had his diagnosis officially reversed by a Canadian psychiatrist, continues to fight to get Dow and the New Zealand government to acknowledge the health problems of Paritutu and Motorua residents. Ironically one month after the University of Otago released a second flawed study “proving” that dioxin exposure wasn’t responsible for their health problems, the government granted Paritutu survivors three free health checks as of July 1, 2008. Gibbs dismisses the government move as a PR ploy, mainly because it denies, without any investigation, the possibility of intergenerational effects (i.e. birth defects in subsequent generations). This directly contradicts a 2006 study showing that New Zealand veterans had DNA damage as a result of dioxin (Agent Orange) exposure in Vietnam (see DNA Injury Confirmed). The Cover-up that Cost More Than the Truth The question yet to be answered is why the New Zealand government was so determined to cover all this up. Why spend millions of dollars on PR consultants, a “financial risk” management unit, flawed research and a vexatious Broadcast Standards Authority (BSA) complaint, when it would have cost far less to acknowledge and treat the health problems of the 500 New Plymouth households who experience dioxin exposure between 1960-1973? The ParitutuIWD website (http://paritutuiwd.hostzi.com/ suggests that government admission of dioxin-related health problems would open them to liability – both from New Zealand veterans and Vietnamese civilians exposed to Agent Orange. Because the New Zealand government was a share holder, as well as subsidizing 2,4,5-T production from 1969 on, they are co-liable with IWD.
I think the motivation for the cover-up is much more complex. The US government faces exponentially higher financial liability for spraying tens of thousands of US vets and Vietnamese veterans with Agent Orange. Yet they acknowledged back in the early nineties that dioxin was responsible for major health problems in Vietnam veterans and their children and grandchildren. The New Zealand government, in contrast, continued to suppress the truth and demonize and harass activists for another twenty more years. As a newcomer to new Zealand, I think the actions of successive governments (both National and Labour) in the dioxin scandal stem from a mindset typical of small countries that depend on volatile industries, such as agricultural exports and tourism, to drive their economy. In addition to extreme weather events and novel pests (such as pseudomonas synringae actinaedae, which threatens to wipe out our kiwifruit industry), New Zealand is subject to the heartbreaking effects of the speculative global commodities market and a high New Zealand dollar. The former can suddenly, and without warning, drop the price of milk and other exports below the cost of production. The latter can wipe out entire markets, in favor of countries with a more favorable exchange rate. All industrialized countries face massive pressure to allow corporations to externalize (i.e. pass them on to someone else) the costs of the environmental degradation and human health problems they cause. In large economies like the US, there is still scope for the public (usually the federal government) to assume some of these externalized costs. This is far more difficult in small countries like New Zealand, which are desperate for foreign investment to meet the growth targets that will stabilize their overseas debt. Believing our country’s very economic survival is at stake, the government response to ordinary Kiwis who are harmed by foreign companies has become more or less automatic: deny, spin, marginalize and demonize. (For additional background and sources, see http://paritutuiwd.hostzi.com/?q=node/2).
Spin, Cover-up, and Statistical Manipulation Apr 13th, 2012 by stuartbramhall in Medical Censorship, New Zealand Political/Economic Landscape
Mar 6 2005 protest at Dow AgroSciences – I’m in the Green Party tee shirt behind the woman in the wheelchair (This is the third of four blogs about the government cover-up of major health problems related to the production of dioxin-related chemicals at Dow AgroSciences in New Plymouth between 1948 and 1987.) In 1987, in response to local pressure and scores of studies documenting dioxin-related health problems in Vietnam veterans, Ivon Watkins Dow (IWD) shut down all 2,4,5-T production. It’s of note this occurred without Dow or the New Zealand government acknowledging any negative health effects from dioxin exposure. Former IWD employees and Paritutu and Motorua residents in close proximity to the plant were left with a legacy of chronic health problems and nowhere to turn for help. In New Zealand, all specialist care is free under the national health service. However Kiwis can only access specialty care via their GPs. Patients pay privately for GP visits, which have yet to be incorporated into the national health scheme. The Public Relations Firm that Got Rich Off Dioxin The battle to obtain government recognition of the major health problems of dioxin-exposed Paritutu and Motorua residents first began in 1973 and escalated in 1980, when Friends of the Earth launched the first campaign to halt 2,4,5-T production at Ivon Watkins Dow. Instead of attempting to understand and address residents’ health problems, IWD and the New Zealand government, IWD’s partner though major share holdings and subsidization, became the first clients of New Zealand’s first public relations firm (Consultus). Records show that Consultus was hired to ensure the ongoing availability and use of 2,4,5-T. A 1981 case study from the international journal PR News – about Consultus’ first PR campaign – is entitled “Countering an Activist Campaign to Have a Product Banned from Use” (http://paritutuiwd.hostzi.com/PDF/C1a.pdf). This “media management” reassurance response seems to be very typical of New Zealand’s approach to toxic waste management. In the words of one Paritutu survivor, the goal is to “delay and deny until we die.” In the mid to late nineties, a friend and local activist named Andrew Gibbs helped found a new research group, the Paritutu Dioxin Investigation Network. When his de facto partner, a long term resident of Paritutu, developed chronic fatigue syndrome and unexplained anemia, her family and friends informed him of widespread reproductive and immune problems of families living near IWD. Gibbs, alarmed by 1985 Paritutu studies showing dioxin residues as high as in Vietnamese regions sprayed with Agent Orange, tried to get the government to test her blood and that of other Paritutu residents. However both National and Labour were still more interested in managing public opinion about dioxin than in helping New Plymouth residents with major health problems. The Government Gives in to Grassroots Pressure In 1998 the Dioxin Investigation Network persuaded local MP (and now mayor) Harry Duynhoven to ask the Minister of Health (under a National-led government) to investigate the health problems of former Paritutu and Motorua residents. His request was declined. In 2000 a similar request to the Minister of Health of the newly elected Labour government was also dismissed.
In 2001, Minister of Health Annette King finally agreed to test the serum levels of 100 Paritutu survivors. When many were found to have elevated dioxin levels, the Labour-led government responded by setting up a Ministry of Health unit to manage “financial risks” related to potential government liability (seehttp://paritutuiwd.hostzi.com/PDF/01.PDF). Spin, Cover-up, and Statistical Manipulation They subsequently commissioned a 2004-2005 study by Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) to “analyze” Taranaki District Health Board cancer and birth defect records for a possible link to dioxin exposure. The researchers the Minister of Health engaged subjected the data to a number of bizarre statistical manipulations to produce the desired conclusion: that high rates of cancer and birth defects in Paritutu and Motorua households were totally unrelated to dioxin exposure. For example, the Ministry of Health (MOH) deliberately re-targeted the study design to focus on residents living in Paritutu between 1974-87, who were known to have lower exposure levels on the basis of initial serum results and production changes between 1969 and 1973 that reduced dioxin contamination. The MOH also altered 2005 data reporting to make it appear ongoing exposure occurred between 1974-87, as well as using inaccurate half-life figures to skew pre-1974 results. Moreover they excluded high rates of diagnosed cancer between 1970-74 as being too close to the period of toxic exposure, which they misreported as occurring between 1962-87 (diluting the effect by including 14 years in which residents experienced minimal dioxin exposure), rather than between 1960-73. See (*) below for actual data. When these statistical manipulations were challenged in a 2006 TV3 documentary entitled “Let us Spray,” the government and their risk management unit dismissed the bulk of the alleged misrepresentations and blamed others on “typographical” errors. The government subsequently laid a (successful) complaint with the Broadcast Standards Authority (BSA) about the documentary, which had won a Qantas Television Award. It subsequently came out that the Minister of Health omitted the statistically manipulated data when they subjected their study for peer review. The only peer review conducted in conjunction with the offending data was ignored. The peer reviewer, Dr Marie Sweeney from the (US) National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health, recommended several corrections to the text and tables which were never made. After New Zealand health officials repeatedly ignored recommendations by ESR and the local ethics review board that they undertake a geo-spatial study of families with elevated dioxin levels, Gibbs himself undertook a study on residents living within 500 meters of IWD between 1963-66. He achieved his primary goal – proving that a historical cohort could be identified – at a total cost of $1000. This was in contrast to the hundreds of millions of dollars the New Zealand government had paid Consultus, ESR, their “financial risk” management unit and the legal team that filed their vexatious BSA complaint. *A look at the Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) 2002 data reveals a large increase in neural tube birth defects in Moturoa and Paritutu residents between 1965 and 1972. It also reveals that New Plymouth rates of hydrocephaly, hypospadias, spina bifida and anencephaly recorded at New Plymouth Maternity Hospital between 1965 and 1971 were respectively 3.2 times, 3.8 times, 4.2 times and 9.7 times the crude rates found in offspring of US Vietnam veterans:
“The 1966-1972 rate of still-births was 1 in 7 versus the expected N.Z rate of 1.1 still-birth in 100 births. The 1966-72 rate of linked NTD (neural tube development) defects was 1 in 10.5 vs the N.Z range of 1 NTD in 222 to 1 NTD in 400. The 1966-72 rate of birth defect cases was *1 in 7 versus the N.Z expected rate of 1 case in 50 births This conservative rate is based on the 2002 TDHB review of addresses for only 17 of 167 birth defect cases 1965-70 so does not include the other 150 defects or three defects reported by Zone A mothers.” Seehttp://www.nzbdmp.ac.nz/assets/FILES/Birth%20Defects%20in%20the%20New%20Plymouth%20Dis trict.pdfand http://paritutuiwd.hostzi.com/PDF/B38.PDF.pdf).” The TDHB data also reveals a significant increase in 1976-85 cancer rates living within 500 meters of IWD in 1963-1966: “Study of 165 Paritutu Zone A 1963-1966 residents living within a 500 metres of Ivon WatkinsBuilding 03 plant: 1976-85 rate of 0-64 year age group cancer mortality was 4.5 times expected. Five deaths where 1.1 was expected based on mean of 1976 and 1985 NZ census rates. Four of the 5 deaths were in 1981 and 1982. Two in five NZ 1976-85 cancer deaths were in 0-64 ages. All five Zone A cancer deaths were in 0-64 ages. Two 1981 cancer deaths were parents aged 35 and 48 of 1969 and 1970 miscarriage and still-birth cases. There were 13 deaths 1976-85 for Zone A 1963-66 residents with 13.4 all cause deaths expected, 5 were cancer deaths with 2.9 expected and there were 3 lung cancer mortalities where less than 1 was expected (see http://paritutuiwd.hostzi.com/PDF/60.pdf/).” (For additional background and sources, see http://paritutuiwd.hostzi.com/?q=node/2). To be continued.
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