Han­dling toxic chem­i­cal ‘ just part of the job’

Weekend Herald - - News -

Ev­ery week, for 15 years, Steve Walker ( pic­tured) han­dled trichloroethy­lene as a New Zealand Post Of­fice tele­phone exchange tech­ni­cian. No gloves or masks. No safety brief­ings or train­ing cour­ses. And it was of­ten used in small, con­fined rooms.

Based at the Bal­clutha exchange from 1969 to 1984, Walker took bot­tles of trichloroethy­lene ( TCE), or trichlo, tri­cho, or trike — as the tech­ni­cians called the po­tent sol­vent with fumes “strong enough to bowl you over” — and ap­plied it lib­er­ally to a hand- held tool to clean switch­ing ter­mi­nals.

“We’d tip the trichlo around, spilling it on to our­selves, with no safety mea­sures at all, other than you were to try to not breathe too much in,” says Walker, now 65 and liv­ing in Christchurch with Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

“The smell was enough to nau­se­ate you for the rest of the day. When you started feel­ing dizzy, you’d go out­side for a breath of fresh air.

“It could ir­ri­tate the skin some­thing shock­ing, and never get it on your eyes. It seeped into your skin, into your clothes. It took over you com­pletely.”

Walker tried not to in­hale the nox­ious fumes but found it un­avoid­able.

“Oth­er­wise you’d never get the job done, and the at­ti­tude in those days was, you just do what you’re told.” Walker was di­ag­nosed with Parkin­son’s eight years ago. The de­bil­i­tat­ing dis­ease cost him a mar­riage, his busi­ness, home, in­come, and abil­ity to play his beloved gui­tar . Walker read the Her­ald ar­ti­cle last month that re­vealed the navy vet­eran’s com­pen­sa­tion vic­tory af­ter prov­ing TCE ex­po­sure con­trib­uted to his Parkin­son’s.

Now, he wants to know whether he has sim­i­lar grounds for com­pen­sa­tion. “I want to ex­plore it but any­thing I get out of it will go back into Parkin­son’s re­search.”

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