Questions about Dow's dioxins raised in New Zealand Parliament

TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Health: What advice has the Minister received about the nature of the significant errors identified by independent forensic accountant John Leonard in the Ministry of Health’s Paritutu dioxin serum study?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I have received advice that the report of the forensic accountant contradicts the findings of the study conducted by Environmental Science and Research that was peer reviewed by scientists at the United States Centers for Disease Control, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Massey University New Zealand, and Hatfield Consultants in Canada. However, John Leonard has made serious claims and I have instructed the Ministry of Health to have his report independently reviewed. I can advise the House that this review will be carried out by Dr Allan Smith of the University of California at Berkeley.
Tariana Turia: Why did the Minister fail to investigate the serious anomalies with the Paritutu dioxin serum study 1 year ago when they were brought to his attention in a letter dated 7 October 2005?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I receive some thousands of letters a year and I am afraid I do not recall that one. But I will say that the Government has every interest in making sure that accurate information is made available to the people of Paritutu and indeed to the wider public.
Barbara Stewart: Has his ministry considered carrying out DNA tests, similar to those on Agent Orange victims, in order to conclusively identify the effects of exposure to the dioxin; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: My understanding, and I am going from memory, is that Dr Neil Pearce from Massey University is conducting further investigations into various chemicals, including dioxin, and that attached to his study are some DNA disruption studies.
Maryan Street: How does the Minister respond to claims that anonymised data from individual patients was withheld from the international peer reviewers of the Environmental Research and Science report, and does he agree that these claims are very serious?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I do agree that they are serious claims, and I am pleased therefore to inform the House that they are wrong. The anonymised data in question was provided to the international peer reviewers. It has so far been withheld from public release, due to privacy concerns from some in the community and from the ethics committee that approved the study. Regardless, serious claims have been made about the Environmental Science and Research report and I have, as I said in my primary answer, instructed the Ministry of Health to analyse them and respond as soon as possible.
Sue Kedgley: Would he like to use this as an opportunity right now, in the House today, to offer an apology to affected New Zealanders for the physical and emotional suffering they have endured as a result of successive Governments subsidising 2,4,5-T, encouraging its widespread use, and, long after it had been banned in most other countries of the world, for allowing it to be manufactured right next to a residential area, and for downplaying, denying, and falsely reassuring residents about the health effects of dioxin; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The events over the past four or five decades have certainly been a chapter of interesting changes of viewpoint and, indeed, probably reflect not only changes in New Zealand society over that time but also changes in our view of what is an acceptable risk. Clearly, what happened then is not acceptable now.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I explicitly asked the Minister whether he would apologise to the affected residents. The Minister did not answer my question.
Madam SPEAKER: I think he addressed the question, but if he wishes to make his answer explicit he may do so.
Hon PETE HODGSON: Let me say, uncomplicatedly, that I do not feel entitled to apologise for 4 ½ decades of activity by a series of industries—that is to say, the primary sector, a series of chemical companies such as Dow and its variously named subsidiaries—and a series of Governments. I am, myself, a person who got through university by spraying an awful lot of gorse. I have no idea what my dioxin level is, but I bet it ain’t that good!
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Government felt able to make an apology to Vietnam veterans—
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, as the member knows.
Hon Harry Duynhoven: Can the Minister confirm that an independent review, as he has outlined, will be done, and that if that review of the existing data shows a need for further investigation, a longitudinal study tracking down the residents who were in the Paritutu area at the time of highest exposures is likely to follow?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is such a study that is under contest; that study has already been carried out. What I am reviewing—as I am sure the member would want, given that he represents the residents in question—is whether John Leonard’s independent forensic accounting expertise was accurate. In either case, I will happily make that information public.
Tariana Turia: What has changed between October 2005, when the Minister denied in writing that there was any evidence of data manipulation to cover up dioxin exposure levels, and the New Zealand Press Association’s report of Tuesday, 24 October, in which the Minister is quoted as saying: “It’s clear that there’s room for doubt so we better have another look…”?
Hon PETE HODGSON: What has changed is that there was a very long television programme, which spent a very long time telling the public of New Zealand that a gentleman thinks there has been a mistake. The gentleman raises valid questions. The fact that he did not know that this stuff had already been peer reviewed several times is perhaps a reflection on the television company. Nonetheless, valid questions have been raised, and we will take another look at the issue.
Sue Kedgley: Will the Government now honour a promise made by Don Matheson, a public health official at the Ministry of Health, to residents at a public meeting in New Plymouth 4 years ago that if there was proof that Dow caused the problem, the Government would initiate legal proceedings against Dow; if the Government will not, does the Minister acknowledge that that will send a terrible message to multinational corporations that they can come to New Zealand, pollute our local environment, poison our local residents, and get away scot-free?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am sorry that I am unable to confirm that that undertaking was made 4 years ago. As to whether the Government should take anyone to court, an immediate question is what we can charge them with. As I recall, in my legal advice to date, I do not know of any law that was broken at the time. If, on the other hand, the member has legal advice to the contrary, I would be pleased to receive it.
Tariana Turia: Will the Minister now undertake to review the—[Interruption] Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Even you heard that outrageous comment from Nick Smith. In light of what he said, he should be asked to leave the House.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I agree. I notice that he has the next question, and he should stay—[Interruption]—no, that was a disorderly intervention and the member knows that. The member should stay until his question is answered.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could you just explain to us the basis on which that intervention was any more disorderly than any number of interjections that have been made during question time today? It was not made during a question, it was not made during a point of order, it was not unparliamentary, but I suppose it could be said that it was personal, because it was aimed at one member of Parliament. But I would say that in the common sense of almost all members here today, that intervention was no different from any other today.
Madam SPEAKER: I take the member’s point, and it was raised yesterday, which is why I am making this ruling. A member was on her feet asking a question, and there was an interchange across the Chamber that was not directed to the question but that was interfering with the person asking the question. That is the basis for that ruling. I want members, please, to show courtesy and respect. Interjections are fine when on the question, but that one was not on the question. It was a gratuitous comment that was put across the Chamber. That is the basis of that ruling.
Tariana Turia: Will the Minister now undertake to review the Taranaki District Health Board’s August 2002 birth defects study, as was recommended, in light of the new evidence in John Leonard’s report?
Hon PETE HODGSON: If the evidence in John Leonard’s report stacks up when reviewed by Dr Allan Smith of the University of California at Berkeley, then I think that the Government does need to consider Dr Smith’s report when it is received.
Tariana Turia: I seek leave to table a letter of 7 October 2005 from Andrew Gibbs to the Hon Pete Hodgson, and a letter from the Hon Pete Hodgson to Andrew Gibbs in response to Mr Gibbs’ letter of 7 October 2005.
Leave granted.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table a letter from Annette King to Andrew Gibbs, where the Minister says that all the monitoring and investigation carried out around the Ivon Watkins-Dow issue showed there was no significant exposure of dioxins into the local population, which is completely erroneous.
Leave granted.

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