31 March 1995

Heart case farmer to sue OP dip firm

By Liz Mason

KENT sheep farmer Gary Coomber is to sue a sheep dip manufacturer after doctors linked his heart complaint to organophosphorus exposure.

Mr Coomber (35) has suffered repeated bouts of myocarditis or inflammation of the heart muscle. His GP, Dr Richard Bernhart, claims there is "quite strong evidence" that his condition was caused by exposure to OP dip.

Mr Coomber was fit and well and had no significant medical problems until June 1991 when he suffered flu-like symptoms and chest pain within two weeks of using sheep dip.

Cardiac arrest

The diagnosis was myocarditis. Mr Coomber recovered after a month and doctors thought his illness was caused by a virus. He remained well until June 1992 when he again developed flu-like symptoms. He was admitted to hospital where he suffered a cardiac arrest.

Fortunately Mr Coomber was resuscitated and transferred to a London hospital. Heart tissue samples were taken and the diagnosis was myocarditis occurring within two weeks of using sheep dip. The cause was thought to be viral or unknown.

Dr Bernhart, who became Mr Coombers GP in 1992, thought his condition was linked to an environmental exposure. "The only one I could think of was OP sheep dip and I asked him to stay away from this stuff and he did."

Mr Coomber remained well until 1994 when he was admitted to hospital suffering chest pain and flu-like symptoms. This third episode occurred after unintentional contact with dipped sheep and a walk through a field sprayed with an OP pesticide. Mr Coombers symptoms occurred within two weeks of exposure and he was unwell for five months.

Specialists could find no evidence to support a viral cause. But Dr Bernhart said the evidence indicting OPs is "quite strong". Why, he asked, did Mr Coombers condition occur in May/June? And why didnt it occur when he was not exposed to OPs?

Supporting evidence is provided by reports in medical journals. "OPs are documented to cause myocarditis but at what dose I dont know. I think it has to be quite a heavy exposure but it could vary from case to case," said Dr Bernhart.

He has been contacted by four other farmers with a similar heart condition. "These people are quite young and it is quite unusual in their age group to suffer from the problems they are suffering," he said. &#42