Birth defects not due to dioxin

An increase in birth defects in New Plymouth during the 60s and 70s was not a result of dioxin exposure, a Ministry of Health (MoH) report says.

A herbicide which contained dioxin and used extensively to control gorse was manufactured in New Plymouth between 1962 and 1987.

"There has been longstanding community concern over the possibility of health effects, including birth defects, on the local population from its manufacture between 1962 and 1987 at the former Ivon Watkins-Dow (IWD) chemical plant in Paritutu, New Plymouth," the report released yesterday says.

The report compared birth defect data compiled by a midwife at Westown Maternity Hospital in New Plymouth between 1965-71 with reports published at the time from hospitals nationwide.

The report, Birth Defects in the New Plymouth district, said there was a high rate of birth defects during that time, "but not at levels substantially different from other parts of the country".

When New Plymouth's birth defect rates were at their highest between 1965-71 there was no difference between spina bifida - a birth defect linked to dioxin exposure - in New Plymouth and nationwide, the report said.

Epidemiologist and birth defects monitoring programme director Barry Borman, who completed the report with Deborah Read for Massey University's Centre for Public Health Research, said New Plymouth was not statistically different from data collected nationwide,

New Plymouth had a higher number of reported congenital dislocation of the hips and club feet.

But, Dr Borman said the research team beleived that could be explained by there being a programme in place in the region which screened and reported these particular birth defects.

There were a number of variables which contributed to the anomalies in the data, he said, "we were given no indication where the mothers conceived, for example".

"The rate [of birth defects] wasn't significantly different from what's been reported in other areas."

A report was completed in 2002 investigating the possible links between neural tube defects with dioxin exposure during 1965-71.

It concluded it was not possible from present data to link neural tube defects to any particular cause.

(Seeking comment from anti-dioxin campaigners)

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