9 July 1999

Rooker wants to meet OPmakers soon over findings

By Jonathan Riley

JUNIOR farm minister Jeff Rooker has called a series of urgent meetings with government committees and chemical manufacturers after a MAFF-funded study found evidence linking exposure to organophosphate sheep dips with nerve damage in humans.

The study was carried out by the Edinburgh-based Institute of Occupational Medicine, which found that nearly one in five apparently healthy farmers using OP dips could be far more prone to nerve damage than the rest of the population.

Mr Rooker, whose department ordered compulsory dipping with OPs up until 1992, said: "The report suggests that the identified exposure to concentrates was associated with an increased likelihood of ill-health in the groups studied."

The study, begun in 1995, monitored the working practice of over 600 sheep producers who had been dipping for a three-day period and compared them with 160 workers who had not been exposed to sheep dip.

After dipping, workers supplied urine samples. These showed that traces of sheep dip chemicals were higher in those who spent longest handling the concentrate.

The main site of exposure was contact with the concentrate through the hands, but splashing with dip wash was also linked to a rise in chemical traces in urine samples.

Symptoms such as mood swings, memory loss, muscular malfunctioning and depression were all markedly higher in sheep dippers exposed to OPs. And the symptoms were higher in those handling concentrated dip when compared with the non-exposed group, according to the report.

It concluded that at least some of the symptoms were due to exposure to sheep dip chemicals and recommended that dippers minimise or eliminate exposure to OPs.

These results have prompted Mr Rooker to call on the Committee on Toxicity Working Group on OPs to consider whether further action should be taken to limit the use of OP dips.

He has also called the Veterinary Products Committee and the Advisory Committee on Pesticides to consider whether further safety measures are necessary.

Mr Rooker was also due to meet chemical trade representative body the National Office of Animal Health on Wednesday to discuss the report.

But a NOAH spokesman said: "Our advice – as always – is to follow the instructions on the label."