New Zealand’s Love Canal
(This is the first 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)
When is corruption not corruption? The anti-corruption campaign in India has received substantial international coverage. Likewise complaints of extensive government corruption in debt-ridden Spain and Greece. Yet massive electoral fraud by Republican-controlled states in 2000 and 2004 goes virtually unreported, even in the so-called alternative media. Likewise allowing corporations to bribe elected officials by paying for their election campaigns is rarely referred to as corruption. Neither is the CIA’s involvement in narcotics trafficking. Nor rewarding banksters with billion dollar bailouts rather than jailing them. Surely any government that openly engages in such activities is deeply corrupt. So why does the world media point the finger at India, Greece and Spain and not the US?
This paradox seems to revolve around the specific nature, not severity, of corrupt practices. What passes for corruption in India, and to some extent Spain and Greece, is major tax avoidance and the expectation that applicants for passports, visas, drivers and business licenses and construction permits will pay a bribe on top of the application fee. All relatively minor stuff, compared to American-style corruption, but fairly common in poor countries where government bureaucrats don’t earn enough to live on.
Since coming to New Zealand, I’ve learned there is a third variety of corruption typical of struggling second world countries. Numerous safeguards make electoral fraud very difficult here. Likewise public officials who accepted bribes would be harshly punished, owing to the disastrous effect it would have on foreign investment. In fact, New Zealand is widely promoted in the global community as being corruption-free. It also enjoys the dubious distinction of being the most regulation-free for overseas corporations, especially when it comes to hazardous corporate waste.
This is the conclusion I have come to: what the corporate media refers to as “corruption” are extra legal activities that interfere with the ability to conduct business. Corruption that results in environmental degradation or destroys the lives or health of ordinary people doesn’t count.
New Plymouth: the Dioxin Capitol of New Zealand
The whole issue of chemical trespass and inadequate toxics regulation is of particular concern to me as a New Plymouth resident. I have numerous friends and former patients who have had their health and lives ruined by the government;s total refusal to oversee or regulate the activities of Dow AgroSciences (formerly known as Ivon Watkins Dow).* The latter produced extremely hazardous dioxin-related compounds between 1948 and 1987. After World War II, chlorinated hydrocarbons (aka organochlorines), such as 2,3,7,8 TCDD (dioxin), 2,4,5-T and 2,4 D were developed as herbicides (weed killers). Dioxin, also known as Agent Orange, was extensively sprayed during the Vietnam War to expose guerrilla positions by defoliating the jungles. The damaging health effects of these compounds were noted in many returning GIs and Vietnamese civilians and their children and grandchildren.
New Zealand, which has long had an economy driven by agricultural exports, relied heavily on the toxic petroleum-based insecticides and herbicides that came out after the war. As early as 1957, the New Zealand Royal Society cautioned that these chemicals needed to be thoroughly investigated, owing to the potential hazard they posed to human health. The warning went unheeded. In the 1950s and 1960s New Zealanders experienced the highest per capita exposure to DDT and related pesticides and 2,4,5-T in the western world. This appears to be the major culprit in the doubling of New Zealand’s cancer rate between 1960 and 2012 – and the halving of Kiwi sperm counts between 1987 and 2007. This drop is the most dramatic fall in the developed world. Neither Australia nor the US experienced a comparable decline in sperm counts during the same period.
The New Zealand government got their first wake-up call regarding their heavy use of these chemicals in 1961, when the US issued a ban on New Zealand beef exports, owing to excessive residues of chlorinated hydrocarbons, such as DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, and BHC, which were used extensively as soil insecticides to combat ‘grass grub’. In 1969 the US notified the New Zealand government of their intention to test beef and lamb exports for TCDD (dioxin), based on research showing that dioxin contaminated 2,4,5-T had caused birth defects in animal studies. A confidential 1960s Dow internal memo reveals that Dow knew TCDD contaminated 2,4, 5-T was hazardous to human health: “The material presents a definite hazard. It shouldn’t be sold until animal tests show these products to be free of significant hazard from dioxin-related materials.” (For additional background and sources, see http://paritutuiwd.hostzi.com/?q=node/2).
*While Ivon Watkins (incorporated in 1944) prided itself on research and development geared towards New Zealand conditions, several major international chemical firms had substantial financial interests in the company including Monsanto (USA), the American Chemical Paint Company (USA), Geigy (Switzerland), Cela (Germany) and the Union Carbide Corporation (USA). Solidifying such connections, the company became Ivon Watkins-Dow Ltd (IWD) in 1964 after Dow Chemicals USA bought a 50% interest (Sewell 1978 – see http://www.dioxinnz.com/pdf-NZ-RAD/RAD-Thesis-BWC.pdf).
To be continued.