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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 May 1995

Vol. 452 No. 4

Adjournment Debate. - Sheep Dips.

I raise this matter to alert public attention to the effects on users of organo phosphorous sheep dips. Research commissioned by the UK Health and Safety Executive carried out by the Institute of Occupational Health published today in The Lancet reveals disturbing findings. Organophosphorous sheep dips are a by-product of the petrol industry. They derive from the same family of chemicals of nerve gases like Sarin. Their poisonous effect on the soil has been known for a long time. Alarmingly, under the regime of compulsory use that existed until this year, always under the supervision of a local authority official, this poison was often discharged directly into rivers.

Also, their harmful effects on humans has been suspected. Those substances approved for use by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry under a compulsory and supervised regime came equipped with advice on protective clothing. That precaution was widely ignored and is attested to in a study carried out by Trinity College to which I was referred by Teagasc. The implications for the quality of supervision carried out by local authorities and paid for by farmers is devastating.

The report of the health and safety executive pointed to the negative effect of the substance on users who did not use protective clothing and it appears that many users of the substance did not use such clothing. The most recent study is hardly less comforting. Its findings of the study carried out over three years show a change in the nervous system resulting from exposure. Affected individuals are reported to have poor mental health and difficulties with memory and concentration. In the most difficult test there was evidence that farmers with the greatest exposure to organophosphates showed the most pronounced effects. The report found a greater vulnerability to psychiatric disorder among those exposed. The findings concluded that chronic effects on the nervous system had occurred in the farmers surveyed which was likely to be associated with long term exposure to organophosphates.

A mandatory certificate of competence is required by anyone purchasing OPs in the UK. In the meantime abolition of compulsory sheep dipping has resulted in an alarming rise in sheep scab. The abolition of the previous regime relieved farmers of the cost of a largely ineffective scheme. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the local authorities who enforced its regulations have a great deal to answer for. It is my understanding that cases are already pending in the UK courts. I hardly need outline the many possible grounds for seeking compensation.

It is appalling that people's health has been irretrievably damaged by compulsory use of products licensed by the Government. I call on the Minister to initiate a full scale investigation. It is time to alert the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to this matter as health and safety must always be an overriding imperative.

I thank Deputy Eoin Ryan for having raised this issue but, as he said, what he had to say was based on something published today in The Lancet. I congratulate him on having been quick off the mark but I am not sure that some of his allegations ought to have been made without some additional inquiry. The position is that the Department of Health keeps in close touch with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and with other relevant agencies on aspects of the agricultural industry which would have any implications for human health.

The position in relation to products which contain organophosphates is that they are subjected to continuous monitoring by the National Drugs Advisory Board, from which agency the Department of Health has requested a full report on the matter. In view of what the Deputy said, I am sure no time will be wasted in the production of that report. I will be in touch with the Deputy when I receive it.