Former sawmill workers share unexplained health issues
A special support group to support the health needs of sawmill workers continues to see a growth in health issues in the region.
Sawmill Workers Against Poisons (SWAP) held a two day meeting recently at the Timber Museum in Putaruru for former millers to discuss their health concerns and assessments.
The service was setup to keep a track of former workers who were exposed to pentachlorophenol or PCP used to treat timber in NZ.
Consultant Joe Harawirasaid their work was important in keeping families informed.
‘‘It’s left a toxic legacy. It’s huge because it’s generational.
‘‘At the end of the day there is a responsibility for the government to address because the majority of the mills in those days were state owned.’’
He has seen the effects that the chemical has had on four generations.
Although there has been no official proof to confirm the range of health issues were related to being exposed to the toxic chemical.
That has been part of the struggle Harawira has had – getting officials to recognise the impact.
‘‘Tokoroa was the timber capital. Those chemicals are still in the environment
‘‘When you look at it in its entirety, this thing is not just about the workers anymore. It’s everyone.’’
Campaigner Erica Herangi, said there were 900 mills around the country that were using the chemical during the 60s.
‘‘No one was really exempt, it’s just to what level. How close were you living to the sawmill? Was your dad there, or your grandfather? ‘‘That’s how it can be measured.’’ Tokoroa local Mania Paiti has suffered from sore lungs for many years.
Doctors can’t find anything wrong but he traces it back to his time working in a mill.
He came over with his brother from Samoa to work at the mill in 1967.
He said no one wore protective gear or breathing apparatus back then and they worked in shorts and singlets.
‘‘Sometimes the fumes would knock you out. We were never told anything.’’
Doctors told Paiti not to worry when he started having breathing problems. Instead they blamed it on a bad lifestyle, he said.
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