|PAN UK Supports call for public inquiry into sheep dip poisonings|
The Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) welcomes today’s call from Shadow Secretary of Health Andy Burnham for a public inquiry into the issue of organphosphate (OP) sheep dip poisoning suffered by sheep farmers and their families.
PAN UK hopes that the government will take heed of this call and initiate a properly independent, transparent inquiry into the issue of OP poisoning. Across the UK many hundreds of farmers and their families have gone through years of suffering as a result of their exposure to OPs. The suffering of these farmers and their families continues to this day and despite solid evidence showing a causal link between their exposure and the health effects this has had there has been no official recognition or compensation paid to the victims.
The sad thing is that these poisoning and the subsequent suffering could have been avoided if the early warnings had not been ignored. Whilst it was made compulsory by the UK government for farmers to dip sheep for scab in 1976 the dangers of OPs were known long before that. As far back as 1951 Lord Zuckerman, who went on to become the government Chief Scientist, warned of the dangers of using OPs and suggested farmers be given proper instructions on how to protect against them while the containers holding OPs should be clearly labelled ‘deadly poison’. These suggestions were not acted upon until the 1990’s.
Data sheets issued with OP sheep dips stated that the products were safe if used with rubber gloves, boots and aprons.
However, in 1981 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published the leaflet MS 17 pointing out that a chemical present in sheep dip would cause rubber to deteriorate and become permeable, thus allowing OPs to come into direct contact with skin. The leaflet also stated that repeated exposure to OPs can cause cumulative health damage. However, this leaflet was never circulated to either farmers or doctors and the information contained in it was not received by those that could make most use of it. In 1992 compulsory dipping of sheep in OPs to treat scab was ceased.
Despite widespread acknowledgement that OP use is hazardous and has been clearly linked to a multitude of ill health effects this has never been acknowledged officially by the government.
Much of the suffering of the victims might have been avoided if the facts that were clearly known had been either acted on or at the very least been made clear to those using OPs, the fact that this didn’t happen is a scandal.
A public inquiry is needed, the people that have suffered and continue to suffer need recognition and compensation and those responsible need to be held up to scrutiny. On the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster it is apt that a call for an inquiry should be announced. We hope that there will be some recompense for the victims of pesticides.
3 December 2014