Ill­ness claims more port peo­ple

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE - By JIM CHIPP

More peo­ple as­so­ci­ated with ports where log fu­mi­ga­tion oc­curred have come for­ward with neu­ro­log­i­cal ill­nesses.

Last year Cen­tral Com­mu­nity News­pa­pers re­ported on five cases of mo­tor neu­rone disease as­so­ci­ated with the Port of Nel­son in 2005 and a sub­se­quent report by Can­ter­bury Univer­sity tox­i­col­o­gist Ian Shaw.

Pro­fes­sor Shaw found a way that low level ex­po­sure to methyl bro­mide, which was used to fu­mi­gate logs at the port, could trig­ger mo­tor neu­rone disease in some peo­ple.

A re­gional pub­lic health report the fol­low­ing year in­ves­ti­gated those cases, as well as a sixth, but de­ter­mined they were a sta­tis­ti­cal anom­aly, rather than ev­i­dence of a cause and ef­fect re­la­tion­ship with methyl bro­mide ex­po­sure.

Stu Smith was di­ag­nosed in Septem­ber last year with the disease.

The 33-year-old Waipuku­rau sheep farmer was once a Wairarapa-Bush rep­re­sen­ta­tive rugby player.

He worked at the Port of Nel­son for six months in 2005 while he was play­ing for Nel­son Bays.

At the time logs were be­ing fu­mi­gated at the port with methyl bro­mide in the open.

Since the ill­nesses came to light the port has stopped the prac­tice and has in­stalled tech­nol­ogy to re­cap­ture gas af­ter use.

‘‘It was a bit of a shock to the sys­tem,’’ he said, with slightly slurred speech.

‘‘The worst thing for us was that we got told: ‘‘Sorry, mate, you’ve got mo­tor neu­rone disease – you’ve got two years.’’

Mr Smith is mar­ried and the cou­ple have three chil­dren, aged one, three and five.

He said he could only do lim­ited work on the fam­ily farm as his arms felt heavy and weak.

‘‘My hands have started to crin­kle up. It’s not good,’’ he said. How­ever, he blames no-one for his ill­ness. ‘‘You could say it’s un­fair, but it’s the hand that you have been dealt.

‘‘The blame game would be a great game to play but there’s no point play­ing it be­cause they don’t know how or why. It’s just one of those things,’’ he said.

‘‘What is the point of get­ting an­gry and throw­ing your toys?’’

All he could do was keep hop­ing that the money and re­search be­ing thrown at the disease would be able to help, he said.

Ray Han­cock lives on a boat at Pic­ton waterfront, near the in­ter­is­land ferry ter­mi­nal.

He said he has been di­ag­nosed with poi­son­ing from methyl bro­mide once used to fu­mi­gate logs there, in the open.

‘‘I’ve been spas­tic, lost all the strength in my legs,’’ the 74-year-old said.

Be­fore his ill­ness he was fit and healthy, and said he had thought he would live for­ever.

Log fu­mi­ga­tion has since been stopped at Pic­ton.

Clare Allen is in her mid-50s and is in the late stages of the disease.

Although she said there are prob­a­bly many causes of the ill­ness she blamed methyl bro­mide from the Port of Welling­ton for hers.

She said she hoped to have a few more months to live.

She con­tacted Cen­tral Com­mu­nity News­pa­pers us­ing her spe­cially-equipped smart phone.

‘‘I have MND [mo­tor neu­rone disease] and can’t talk or move much so I’ll get to the point. My one fin­ger has lit­tle power for tap­ping this out.

‘‘I lived on the outer part of Chaf­fer’s Ma­rina for most of five years in [the] yacht Free­dom while we fit­ted it out for ocean sail­ing.

‘‘We were both ex­tremely fit and healthy. We lived about as close to the log and car treat­ment area as a per­son can and with most com­mon wind a NW [north-westerly] so I would say down-wind of it. ‘‘Our hatch faced it and was al­ways open.’’ Her hus­band Jon De Vries died of a rare form of mus­cle can­cer.

‘‘I hope no one else will have to get this nasty disease, which I think is linked to methyl bro­mide,’’ she said.

Trevor Joy, of Maun­garaki, died of mo­tor neu­rone disease about five years ago in his early 70s.

His son Terry blamed his ill­ness on ex­po­sure to methyl bro­mide.

‘‘He was ex­posed while stay­ing on his boat moored at Pic­ton, while a ship con­tain­ing logs that had been treated with methyl bro­mide was an­chored near by,’’ Terry said.

Trevor was fit and healthy be­fore his di­ag­no­sis, but died about six months later.

‘‘It wasn’t like he was al­ready ail­ing,’’ Terry said.

Cen­tral Com­mu­nity News­pa­pers has al­ready re­ported three other cases.

Rick Gra­ham, of Woburn, died of mo­tor neu­rone disease in 2007 af­ter spend­ing time in­spect­ing im­ported cars at the port af­ter they had been fu­mi­gated

Ngaio res­i­dent Ian McGre­gor was a re­frig­er­a­tion en­gi­neer at Welling­ton’s port. He was di­ag­nosed with mo­tor neu­rone disease three years ago and is now liv­ing in a hospi­tal.

An­other Hutt man who worked with used cars af­ter then left the wharf suf­fered grand mal epilepsy at­tacks.

At Welling­ton Port logs are fu­mi­gated un­der cover or in ship holds, but the used gas is re­leased.

Mo­tor neu­rone disease is a neu­ro­log­i­cal disease which causes de­gen­er­a­tion of cer­tain brain and spinal-cord nerve cells.

Pa­tients pro­gres­sively lose mus­cle con­trol and usu­ally die within four years.

There is no cure or ef­fec­tive treat­ment.

Do you know some­one else who was af­fected?

Do you know of any­body who has or had mo­tor neu­rone disease and was as­so­ci­ated in any way with Welling­ton’s wharves?

If you want to tell us about james.chipp@fair­fax­me­

it email

Struck down: Former Wairarapa-Bush rep­re­sen­ta­tive rugby player Stu Smith and his fam­ily. Mr Smith has been di­ag­nosed with mo­tor neu­rone disease.

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