New Zealand: Shocking baby photos needed to jolt awareness

New Plymouth’s Judy Eva lived near the Ivon Watkins-Dow plant in the 1960s. Her two daughters were born with deformities possibly linked to dioxin. PHOTO: NIC GIBSON/TARANAKI DAILY NEWS
A New Plymouth woman was shocked to see photos of her deformed newborn baby girl on a television documentary exposing the effects of dioxin this week.
But, while distressing, there is a need to show them to the New Zealand public in order to bring the issues to the fore, says Judy Eva.
“It’s just as well they were taken. It is proof it did happen,” she said.
Mrs Eva was one of hundreds of people who e-mailed, phoned and sent letters to TV3 after the Let Us Spray documentary on Monday night.
The programme focused on Paritutu residents’ exposure to dioxin, a byproduct of the herbicide 2,4,5-T manufactured by Ivon Watkins-Dow (now Dow AgroSciences) between 1962 and 1987.
Greens MP Sue Kedgley has since called for the Government to apologise and compensate those affected.
A public meeting is to be held next Thursday at the Plymouth International at 7pm.
Its organiser, Chemically Exposed Paritutu Residents Association spokesman Andrew Gibbs, said it would be open to all political parties, “as we see it as a fundamental human rights issue, not a political football”.
Mrs Eva told the Taranaki Daily News yesterday that she gave birth to two daughters in the 1960s. Both were born with spina bifida and did not survive.
“I was not aware there were so many others born with a similar problem.
“When you look back you wonder why, when there were so many babies born with deformities, that no one took any action.”
She is childless, having decided not to have any more children.
While Mrs Eva did not live in Paritutu, she lived within 2km of the Ivon Watkins-Dow plant when the babies were conceived. She recalls smelling fumes from the plant from her home in Hine St during damp weather.
Ministry of Health investigations found dioxin in Paritutu and Moturoa soils.
Blood tests also found long term residents have, on average, four times the national average dioxin levels. The dioxin came from airborne emissions at the plant.
Westown Maternity matron Hyacinth Henderson was so concerned when she saw large numbers of deformed babies being born, she took their photos and recorded details between 1965 and 1970.
Mrs Henderson alerted health authorities, but no action was taken.
A recent review of the birth defects in New Plymouth, using Mrs Henderson’s data, has since been carried out by the former medical officer for health, Patrick O’Connor. Mr Gibbs said 20 of the 28 were found by Dr O’Connor. Five were from rural areas. Six of the 15 in New Plymouth city were from Moturoa.
The average was three times that of National Women’s Hospital, Mr Gibbs said.
Mrs Eva said she only became aware her daughters were in Mrs Henderson’s study when their photos appeared in Investigate magazine’s article on dioxin.
Mrs Eva’s doctors at the time had suggested the defects could have been genetic, but neither she nor her husband had any history of spina bifida in their families.
The documentary includes television footage from 1986 and Dr J. Stoke, director of public health, saying he was happy to drink many litres of 2,4,5-T each day.

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