Potting mix danger alert after deaths

The Alexandra Garden Club believes the way compost and potting mix is packaged and stored in the baking Central Otago sun makes it potentially lethal.

Two Alexandra people have died with the cause of death officially listed by the Southern District Health Board as Legionnaires’ disease, also known as legionellosis.

A third has the disease listed on his death certificate and family members of those who have died say the number of deaths in the Central Otago District is potentially higher.

The Southern District Health Board recorded five cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Central Otago last year — one fatal. The board recorded a second fatality in the district this month.

While the board does not release names, the Otago Daily Times can name the first fatality as 88-year-old Alexandra man Martin Biss, who died on October 25.

The second Alexandra fatality, Josie Padget (70) died on February 19.

A third victim not included in Southern District District Health Board statistics is Tony Flannery, (74), also of Alexandra who died on December 28.

Son George Flannery said yesterday "it’s on his death certificate".

Alexandra Garden Club president Ray Wright said Central Otago’s hot climate combined with a product packaged in plastic bags made for a potentially fatal mix.

"This is a live product, a product that heats and ferments."

The former landscape architect said people were often not aware of what they were dealing with.

Due to the "live" nature of the product it would heat whether it was stored inside or outside but outside that process could be compounded, he said.

A by-product of that process was gases and bacterial spores.

"Take it home, open the bag to pot something up, breathe it in and it can kill you," Mr Wright said.

Martin Biss’ son, Simon Biss, of Hamilton, said his father was a "great gardener".

"He would play with potting mix all day."

About a week before his father’s death he was called by staff from Ranui Court Retirement Village.

"They said he was a bit wobbly, like he had had a few drinks."

Paramedics were called but initially dismissed his condition due to his age and a confusing raft of symptoms where he would deteriorate, then rally.

"I called him the next morning on his mobile and he was good as gold."

However, his father was known to be fit and healthy and staff believed something was wrong and he was transferred to Dunstan Hospital.

"By the time I got there on the Friday and the Saturday he was really bad, I called my brother in Perth (Australia) and said, ‘if you want to see Dad alive you better get here now’."

What followed was a general improvement in his condition and doctors began to withdraw treatment by October 24 but his father died overnight, Mr Biss said.

His father’s death was one of up to six in the Central Otago region, including Mr Flannery, Mr Biss said.



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