Tag Archives: Countess of Mar

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 The orders were rescinded in 1992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.








Sick and dying aircrew? The establishment’s favourite phrase: no causal link established

2 Jan

Reports of ill health after exposure to radiation, fluoridation, contaminated blood, dental mercury, pesticide poisoning and a range of other conditions the protective cry goes up, backed by interested scientists, that there is ‘no causal link’.

For many years social and mainstream media have covered allegations that the health of aircrews has been adversely affected after leaks of smoke or fumes into cabins.

cqage videoAccording to the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive group ‘contaminated bleed air events’ have been acknowledged since the 1950s. Established in 2006, GCAQE, which organisations from 17 countries have joined, argues that such events are significantly under-reported – see their video, first shot opposite. It names one ingredient in the engine oil, organophosphate, references to which have often appeared on this site, and calls for a less toxic alternative.

A UK independent committee on toxicity, including university experts, estimates that there is roughly one fume event for every 2,000 flights. European Aviation Safety Agency data shows that during the past 10 years more than 80 flights were diverted or forced to return to their departure point because of smoke or fume related incidents.

In 2009 two top BA pilots died within days of each other after complaining about being exposed to toxic oil fumes on passenger planes. Richard Westgate, 43 (left), died after instructing his lawyers to sue BA for health and safety breaches days before fellow pilot Karen Lysakowska, 43, passed away.

air quality richard westgate

In the news: 2015

In February ITV News revealed that the Senior Coroner for the County of Dorset had written to the Civil Aviation Authority and British Airways to express concern about the quality of cabin air and warned of the “risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken”. For the last two years he had been investigating the death of Richard Westgate.

Air crew prepare to take legal action against British  airlines

In April 2015, Mandatory Occurrence Reports – safety reports – submitted by British-registered airlines to the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority were seen by ITV News, They showed that between December 2014 and March of this year, smoke or fumes were reported in the cabin on 167 flights, “Some of the cases were serious”.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reports show that between April 2014 and May 2015 there were 251 separate incidents of fumes or smoke at one British airline. The BBC says an illness was reported in 104 of the 251 cases, and on at least 28 of the flights oxygen was administered.

In June 2015 the Financial Times reported that the EU’s safety regulator, the European Aviation Safety Agency, is investigating the quality of cabin air as 17 UK crew prepare to take legal action against British airlines over alleged injuries due to toxic fumes. The ‘aerotoxic syndrome’ cases are backed by the union Unite, which represents 20,000 flight staff. Safety reports obtained by the BBC suggest that the problem could be widespread.

Earlier this month the redoubtable Countess of Mar, Deputy Speaker (Lords), once again returned to this issue. In Written Answers — Department for Transport: Aircraft: Air Conditioning (16 Dec 2015) she asked government what assessment they have made of the 2010 PhD study by Susan Michaelis, Health and flight safety implications from exposure to contaminated air in aircraft.

The study showed that 63% of studied pilots experienced short-term effects from cabin air contamination, and 13% were no longer able to maintain their pilot medical certification because of chronic ill health which bore a close temporal relationship to cabin air contamination; and assessing what support is offered to pilots, crew and passengers who are affected by fume events.

‘Historic’ references

2007: harrowing accounts: SUMMARIES OF INDIVIDUAL SUBMISSIONS http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldselect/ldsctech/7/713.htm

2010: Political Concern censured government for permitting toxic chemicals in the home, in aeroplanes, in agriculture and in warfare.

2012: Contaminated air events: recommendations were made in the Lords Science and  Technology First Report 2007. Chemical Concern, prompted by Peter Evans, asked if the Lords 2007 recommendations had been implemented – obviously not.

brenda awardThere is now pressure from unions, the EU investigation, legal action and politicians like MP Andy Burnham and the Countess of Mar. In addition, there is civic action – the lobbying of affected individuals including Captain John Hoyte, sheep farmer Brenda Sutcliffe (above centre), Richard Bruce and Georgina Downs – and their supporters, who include former councillor, Peter Evans (above right) and farmers Tom Rigby (second left) and Robin Casson.

Will this combined pressure eventually outlaw these toxic substances?

House of Commons meeting on the health impact of organophosphates

11 May

Forthcoming organophosphates meeting: Wednesday 14th May, 2.00pm – 3.30pm, Committee Room 9

You are invited to a meeting on the health impact of organophosphates to be held at the House of Commons. Issues to be discussed include:

  • Have sheep dipping caused long-term damage to health?
  • Were the products safe?
  • Were the warnings adequate?

The meeting will be held on Wednesday May 14th in Committee Room 9, Palace of Westminster 14.00 – 15.30.

It will be chaired by Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP, with introduction by the Countess of Mar and speakers will include experts in toxicology, such as Dr Sarah Mackenzie Ross.

committee room 9 commons map

 Use Cromwell Green entrance

RSVP tom.rigby2@btopenworld.com – 01942 671020

Tom adds: on the day only, mobile: 07833 764015 – any problems give me a call.

Investigating the effect of pyridostigmine bromide and organophosphates on Gulf War veterans’ illness

20 Aug

Highlighted here lest we forget that our armed forces could once again be exposed to the same cocktail of chemicals: an account received  from Tom Rigby after reading a post about the work of the late Alf Morris on a sister site:

Covering message 

Alf Morris was a great man who will be sadly missed. I went to the Gulf War Illness symposium he organised at the House of Lords 24th March 2009. He had arranged for US experts to come over to explain their findings that the illness is caused by pyridostigmine bromide and organophosphates.

The Ministry of Defence didn’t attend; they later denied getting the invitation in time despite sending a Written Answer to MP Paul Tyler saying that it had been given too little notice. Two letters had also been sent a month before the meeting to Lady Taylor, Minister for International Defence and Security, and the Veterans Minister, MP Kevan Jones.

In his closing address Lord Craig, former Chief of Defence Staff during the Gulf War, was so indignant I thought he was going to march on the House of Commons

We wish that he had! 

Tom Rigby’s account – headings added

In the House of Lords there is an inner sanctum called the Queen’s Robing room (where successive monarchs have prepared for the state opening of parliament) exquisitely decorated with scenes from Arthurian legend depicting the virtues of Courtesy, Religion, Generosity, Hospitality and Mercy. It must have witnessed many interesting sights through the years, but probably none more remarkable than the visit of three members of the US Research Advisory Committee on Gulf war Veterans’ Illness last week; their journey to be there and mine have very separate beginnings.

For me it was another journey on the quest for the missing shepherds.

Some years ago an Anglican priest told me he was conducting too many funerals for people far too young to die and, as I looked around for those I knew from childhood, many had aged before their time and some suffering from inexplicable ailments.

The commonest explanation offered was they were being affected by the chemicals in the sheep dip, in particular organophosphates (OPs) which are known as nerve toxins They had been developed in Germany in the second world war as pesticides and then refined as chemical weapons (at the end of the war the UK, US and Russia discovered this research and each developed their own weapons and pesticides). However first MAFF and now DEFRA insist that the new generations of OP pesticides are safe provided they are used according to instructions because their toxicity has been reduced.

Our US visitors had been on a very different quest with a far more successful result.

What had been puzzling them is why so many of their veterans of the Gulf War (1990-91) were now in broken health, at least 175,000 of the 697,000 troops deployed were experiencing a range of symptoms with no known cause. It had proved to be one of the most challenging pieces of medical detective work in recent times – not just because of the wide range of symptoms but also because of the long list of possible causes, everything from the oil well fires, fall-out blowing up chemical weapon dumps and the use of depleted uranium had made it one of the most toxic wars in history.

However by a very detailed analysis they were able to ascertain Gulf War Illness was a real condition with two known causes: pills given to protect the troops from effects of nerve agents (known to our troops as NAPs with active ingredient pyridostigmine bromide (PB) a carbamate very closely related in action to OPs) and the insecticides they used to keep pest-borne diseases away many of which were OPs. All are neurotoxic explained in ways that go far beyond my medical understanding but even a layman like myself could see the damage revealed by the sophisticated brain-imaging techniques they had developed (damage that doesn’t show up on a normal MRI scan). They were able to show why problems of that type ought to be treatable (because again in layman’s terms the damage was to the ‘insulation’ of the fibres of the brain rather than the ‘wires’ themselves) and able to explain why some people exposed to similar levels of OPs can remain unaffected (by having high levels of the enzyme PON1 in the blood) which also gives a clue to possible prevention.

Britain trivialised, the United States investigated

There seems to be a different approach to unexplained medical conditions on either side of the Atlantic. Over here we tend to trivialise such things by either denying that they exist or shrug our shoulders and say nothing can be done; over there when reports came through that veterans were suffering doctors were ordered to find a cure. The US has already spent about $400m on investigating Gulf War Illness most of which is new research . . .

In contrast the UK with 5,000 reported cases spent less than £25k on a review of the medical research of which about £17k was on hotel and travel costs.

Such is the supremacy of US know-how in this area that we had to invite their academics over here to point out that our institutions are failing to give a duty of care to those brave men and women who volunteer for service.

There is a not very PC joke about Canada being the country that could have had the best of everything – British tradition, American know-how and French culture but sadly ended up with French tradition, British know-how and American culture. Frankly we could have used a bit of Gallic unreasonableness in the room that day; if a French farmers’ leader such as Jose Bové had been there I expect he would have barricaded the doors, staged a sit-in and the issue may have been much nearer resolution before the day was out.

Our armed forces could again be exposed to the same cocktail of chemicals

But that is not the British (or American) way and many may have to suffer for a while longer yet. Unfortunately while their conditions are wrongly diagnosed some are prescribed the sort of medication that can make their condition worse, some in despair turn to suicide and, as far as I am aware, because lessons have not yet been learned, our armed forces in similar circumstances would again be exposed to the same cocktail of chemicals.

However with so many of the great and good gathered there it gave me cause for optimism. For a start there is the Countess of Mar, an OP victim herself but with an indomitable campaigning spirit. Next to her was Lord Lloyd of Berwick who chaired the Independent Inquiry into Gulf War Illness that the government continues to ignore (resplendent in a tie covered in sheep which I presume was a political statement rather than a fashion one). The event had been organized by Lord Morris of Manchester (the first Minister for the Disabled anywhere in the world and a tireless campaigner on their behalf) and closed with a rousing speech by Lord Craig of Radley (Marshal of the RAF and Chief of the Defence Staff in the First Gulf War) who was critical that no-one from the MoD (or for that matter the official opposition) had bothered to attend. Many of our leading academics in the field were also there such as Prof Malcolm Hooper, Dr Sarah Mackenzie-Ross and Dr Stephen Hodges, all in their own way modern-day exponents of Arthurian virtue.

Tom adds: “If you or anyone you know has been affected by the issues raised please do get in touch”.

The report ‘Gulf War Illness and the Health of Gulf War Veterans – Scientific Findings and Recommendations’ is available at: http://www1.va.gov/rac-gwvi/docs/GWIandHealthofGWVeterans_RAC-GWVIReport_2008.pdf