MP’s Agent Orange claim triggers inquiry

Officials will investigate a Government minister’s reported claim that Ivor Watkins Dow exported the components of the defoliant Agent Orange for use in the Vietnam War.

Transport Safety Minister and New Plymouth MP Harry Duynhoven has given the long-standing claims that New Zealand made and exported Agent Orange new weight with comments to a Sunday newspaper.

It has also raised questions about whether the Government will face lawsuits at home and overseas.

He told the Sunday News he had information the products used to make Agent Orange – 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D – were shipped from the Taranaki wharves in the 1960s to the American base at Subic Bay in the Philippines for use in the Vietnam War.

This contradicts denials by Ivon Watkins Dow – now Dow AgroSciences – that it supplied Agent Orange or its ingredients to the US military from its Paritutu, New Plymouth, plant.

The newspaper quoted Mr Duynhoven as saying the export of the products under the National Government of Sir Keith Holyoake “should be in the public arena”. The claim has come mainly from environmentalists and the Green Party.

In 1990, during the fourth Labour Government’s final days, a parliamentary committee reported that evidence for the claim was inconclusive.

Mr Duynhoven was overseas yesterday and could not be contacted.

But Government duty minister Rick Barker said officials would look afresh at the claim.

National deputy leader Gerry Brownlee asked if Mr Duynhoven had hidden his information from last year’s health select committee inquiry into the health effects of the agent on veterans and their children.

“Surely Mr Duynhoven wasn’t the only member of Cabinet to have this information?”

He said Prime Minister Helen Clark must tell what she knew, how long she knew and how long she intended sitting on the information.

But Green Party co-leader Rod Donald said Mr Brownlee should “look in the mirror”, as National was in power at the time during the war and for most of the time since.

He said Mr Duynhoven’s reported revelations were breathtaking. They vindicated his party’s view and showed the Government should take IWD to court.

“Being sprayed with New Zealand-made Agent Orange is equivalent to being bombed by New Zealand-made bombs.

“The revelation strengthens our call for the families of Kiwi soldiers in Vietnam to get the full medical treatment they deserve and the monitoring that they’ve been calling for.”

John Moller, former president of the now-defunct Vietnam Veterans Association set up in the 1980s to research the effects of Agent Orange, said he was shocked by Mr Duynhoven’s statement.

The only documents Mr Moller had seen relating to such claims were two books, one of which said ICI New Zealand had supplied Agent Orange.

“But being a member of Parliament I suppose he’s got the knowledge and evidence to back it up.”

Mr Moller said that at the parliamentary probe into the claims, an IWD official was asked if Agent Orange was made at New Plymouth.

“His reply was ‘not at that site’.”

No politicians had bothered to ask whether it was made at another site.

Mr Moller said the irony was not lost on veterans that they could have been poisoned by their own country.

He said veterans and their widows and families should be compensated. About 600 veterans, of more than 3000 who served there, were now dead.

Dow NZ general manager Peter Dryden was overseas and could not be contacted yesterday.

Greenpeace toxics campaigner Mere Takoko said up to 15 per cent of the product made in New Zealand was exported during the Vietnam War period.

She said the Government breached the Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use and supply of chemicals for waging war.

Former Taranaki port watersider Norm Quinlan said it was well-known in the 1960s that Ivor Watkins Dow exported some chemicals to the Philippines.

Now 85, Mr Quinlan said a drum containing liquid from the plant broke while loading one day and another worker got covered in the “juice”.

He was in hospital for months and a few years ago died of cancer.

“There was three in that hold that day and they all later died of cancer.”

Mr Quinlan did not know exactly what substances they were exposed to, but “it was stuff from Ivor Watkins Dow going up to the Philippines … going up that way anyway.

“The only thing I can tell you is that I worked on the ship that sent that stuff away. I’ve got an idea that it was in 66 or 67.”

He said few watersiders from that era were still alive.

Deadly mix

Agent Orange is a mixture of the herbicides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, and was used as a defoliant by the US military in the Vietnam War.

Ivon Watkins Dow made both herbicides at its Paritutu, New Plymouth, plant but denies producing Agent Orange or selling its components to the US military.

Published: 2005, Jan, 10. | Time-stamp: 7:44 PM Monday | By: Kevin Taylor | Article Link: nzherald.co.nz | Article Title: MP's Agent Orange claim triggers inquiry.

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