The Taranaki Marfell Park toxic drums saga is sadly typical of the difficulties communities face getting support in dealing with toxic sites.
In 1993 my partner and I (while working for Greenpeace) toured the country speaking with virtually all the Regional Councils about the contaminated sites in the region. Our main focus was PCP (a timber treatment chemical banned in 1989) contaminated with dioxin, but we also talked with Councils and communities about dieldrin, 24D, 245T and all the other scary organochlorine chemicals once widely used in our farms, forests and industries. Some of these old nightmares, namely 24D, are still being used and we also have some new chemicals risks but that is another saga.
The 1993 tour included meeting many people who had been poisoned by these chemicals and who were struggling for basic recognition of the heath and environmental effects. Their loudest call however was not for themselves, but for the identification, isolation and clean up of all sites to protect future generations.
Some Regional Councils started to compile registers of known toxic sites, but remained close-mouthed about sites on private land and many minimised the risk to communities. We believe this related to costs of clean up, fear of loss of land sales and development opportunities, and ignorance about the seriousness of dioxin risks.
In 2004 we toured again, this time with the “People Poisoned Daily” group. This tour assisted the Vietnam veterans in their campaign for recognition and health support for their exposure to 245T in Vietnam. 245T was made at the Ivon Watkins DOW chemical factory in New Plymouth.
Progress was also made by the Sawmill Workers Against Poisons in getting some recognition and health care for Whakatane dioxin victims. Meanwhile Andrew Gibbs of New Plymouth with strong support from Sue Kedgley made DOW a household name and a Health Plan was developed for Paritutu residents who had lived near DOW.
However, as Marfell Park clearly demonstrates, the dumping of drums of toxic waste also occurred away from these larger sites. There are numerous historical allegations about dumping of drums from DOW, the Bay of Plenty timber mills, and the Mapua agrichemicals factory. Yet, local people are still being told to relax and trust officials and clean-up consultants.
The history of the dioxin contamination issue is crystal clear. Wherever communities have stood up and fought they have achieved progress. It has taken a very long time and the corporates responsible for the contamination have taken no responsibility at all. It seems that affected citizens can grasp the seriousness of the issues but everyone else has to be dragged screaming to the table.
Kia kaha Marfell Park people, we stand with you!