DALE PAGET, NATIONAL NINE NEWS, AUSTRALIA, JULY 20, 2006
Sydney Harbour fisherman Spiros Kandiliotis and his family (National Nine News)
Carrying a heavy burden, Sydney Harbour fisherman Spiros Kandiliotis walks slowly from Concord hospital surrounded by his children and three grandchildren. He is holding his one-year-old grandson, Stephan, in his arms.
“I poisoned my kids,” the fisherman says, holding back tears.
Spiros didn’t poison anyone but he feels he did. Until commercial fishing was banned in January, he lived to fish on on the harbour, and thought he was doing the right thing by regularly providing seafood to his family.
He didn’t know the prawns, bream and other species were contaminated with potentially cancer causing dioxins, an industrial by-product that had leached into the waterways from Union Carbide’s former operation at Homebush Bay.
The dioxin has passed through the food chain into the fish and those that ate them.
“Very high levels, the kids, me, everybody,” explains Spiros. “We get poisoned and [it’s] the government’s fault.”
The Kandiliotis family now represents three generations of anguish.
Spiros has about ten times the normal level of dioxin in his blood. His three grandchildren — double the average for an adult.
“I thought I was doing the right thing giving them fish but obviously I wasn’t,” Stephan’s mother Diana says.
“I’m just very emotional.”
Tests have been done on 95 fishermen and their families — they have between two and ten times the normal dioxin level. Now the worrying question is will the dioxin will give them cancer? The experts don’t think so, but can’t be sure.
“At the current time there are no demonstrated health effects at this range of levels,” explains the Health Department’s Dr Kerry Chant. “But with that there’s some scientific uncertainty.”
That’s no comfort to the families.
“They are healthy at the moment,” says Elaine Pensabene, whose two children have tested twice the normal adult level of dioxin. “In four years time, or ten years time … I don’t know.”
Francis Forrester tested four times the average.
‘I’m shocked,” she says.
“I’ve been poisoned and people who poison others get put in jail and as far as I’m concerned, that’s where the government should be today.”