Posts Tagged ‘consultus’
by stuartbramhall in Medical Censorship, New Zealand
- 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 (see http://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.” See http://www.nzbdmp.ac.nz/assets/FILES/Birth%20Defects%20in%20the%20New%20Plymouth%20District.pdf and 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 Watkins Building 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.