Post 1945: a plague of profitable but destructive chemicals

14 Sep

2010 research findings: 34% of UK cancers in 2010 (106,845) were linked to smoking and alcohol and one in 25 cancers is linked to a person’s job – other causes included exposure to chemicals. The percentages may well have risen. Pollution is one of many factors thought to be responsible for rising rates of allergy.

Despite this knowledge, harmful substances are freely sold in order to enrich a few and any attempt to change this is met with powerful resistance which influences most politicians.

Richard Bruce sent a link to this parliamentary debate opened by the Countess of Mar, a doughty campaigner on behalf of farmers, whose health seriously deteriorated after being compelled by government to use organophosphate sheep dip. Lord Blyth referred to Richard’s experience, but a fuller account is given on his website.

Agriculture: Health & Safety Responsibilities

6 Feb 1996: Column 183

The Countess of Mar rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the statutory duties of the Health and Safety Executive and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure that employers and employees carrying out exclusively agricultural operations are kept informed of, and adequately advised on, matters relating to health and safety.

The noble Countess said: In asking the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare an interest. I have been exposed to organophosphate sheep dip and believe that I suffer chronic ill health as a result.

Some of the points made in the seven page report:

  1. In 1951, Solly Zuckerman, later Lord Zuckerman, chaired a working party which investigated the health effects on workers using dinitro and organophosphorus compounds in agricultural sprays
  2. It found that repeated low level exposures could result in chronic effects on human health
  3. and recommended simplifying labelling and including the words “Deadly poison” in large letters on containers.
  4. But not until 1994 were manufacturers required to put a skull-and-crossbones symbol on OP sheep dip containers to warn of toxicity.
  5. MAFF introduced national dipping orders in 1976
  6. The orders were rescinded in 1992
  7. GPs, untrained in chemical toxicology, used irrelevant tests & many decided that these patients’ symptoms were psychosomatic.
  8. Effective tests were not recommended by the HSE to GPs and consultants.
  9. The Health and Safety Commission did not consider it appropriate to advise and inform farmers of the inherent dangers of these substances.
  10. The Health and Safety Executive actively suppressed a 1990 field research project.
  11. Internationally research published in the Lancet in May 1995 found damage to farmers and that there was a dose relationship.
  12. Veterinary Products Committee rejected these research findings.
  13. The Countess of Mar asked the Minister how many members of the VPC had the relevant neurobehavioural expertise to assess this research. (Ed: an undated account VPC Members Specialisms and Biographical Details Indicates that none had this expertise, though Dr Karin Burnett had studied several aspects of toxicology).
  14. OPs are said to be too toxic to test on humans and maximum levels of exposure are arbitrarily set.
  15. T.C. Marrs, senior medical officer at the Department of Health, adviser to Ministers and government committees, said at a meeting of farmers in October 1991, “You don’t have to convince me there is long-term damage. I know it”, but did not inform ministers.
  16. Though the National Poisons Unit (NPU) at Guy’s Hospital confirmed that Richard Bruce had been poisoned by organophosphates and this was reported to the HSE, their inspectors did not visit Mr. Bruce or the farm where he worked to investigate the incident.
  17. Lord Blyth asked: How serious does an incident have to be before it is thoroughly investigated? What powers do health and safety inspectors and EMAS doctors have to inspect premises and obtain other evidence?
  18. The NPU withdrew the diagnosis of OP poisoning in a letter to the HSE, copied to Mr. Bruce’s GP on 2nd December 1994, but confirmed the diagnosis to the Benefits Agency in a letter of the same date.
  19. Lord Beaumont cited an Australian case with damages awarded in a court of law and recommended that OP sheep dips be classified as prescription products until the results of the Government’s delayed researches are known.

Baroness Turner said “It is clear from the information received from a number of sources that much needs to be done to improve health and safety standards in this vital industry. Many in it are suffering the effects of pesticide poisoning, and many are dying as a result.

 

The report may be read here.

 

 

 

 

 

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