8 August 1997

OP campaigners claim breakthrough with musician case

By Tony McDougal

CAMPAIGNERS fighting for a ban on organophosphates claimed a significant breakthrough this week after a judge in Hong Kong awarded a musician £1.9m for chronic damage to his health caused by a single exposure to OPs.

Elizabeth Sigmund, chairman of campaign group the OP information network, said the judgement, which centred on Diazinon – made under licence at the time by Ciba-Geigy – was proof that the chemicals could cause chronic damage through inhalation. And she believed it would help sheep farmers pursuing claims in the UK.

Judge Conrad Seagroatt accepted that the musician, American Kristan Phillips, had suffered irreversible chronic damage from a single exposure to Diazinon in a Hong Kong music hall 10 years ago. A pest control firm, hired to kill cockroaches, sprayed the OP through the hall while the musician was rehearsing.

But OP manufacturers maintained that the ruling could not set a precedent in UK courts, adding that the product had been incorrectly used by the pest control firm.

Phil Dobson, Novartis (formerly Ciba) animal health technical director, said the firm might appeal against the decision. But he insisted the case would not have a dramatic impact in the UK, even though diazinon is used by nearly 50% of farmers who dip sheep. "The inhalation of the product is not a problem when used according to the labelling instructions," he said.

Roger Cook, director of the animal health companies trade body NOAH, believed the product had been used incorrectly in the Hong Kong case, having been mixed with other chemicals. "It really is not anything to do with animal health," he said.

But Mrs Sigmund said the court ruling represented a victory. "I think it is extremely important, as diazinon is widely used in sheep dipping. It has always been sold as one of the safest, and chemical firms have denied that inhalation has ever been a problem." She insisted the case meant that government would have to reconsider its opinion on OPs.

A MAFF spokeswoman said all OPs licensed in the UK had been subjected to statutory scientific approval. But, she added, government would consider the findings of the case once it had full details. &#42