Memorandum by the OP Information Network
OP Information Network (OPIN) wishes to draw
to the attention of the ETRA Select Committee the disturbing situation
concerning the limited circulation of an extremely important document
published by the Health and Safety Executive, Biological monitoring
of workers exposed to organophosphorus pesticides, Medical Series
17. This was written by a group of HSE doctors, published
in 1981 and revised and republished in 1987. Its existence was
never made known to doctors, farmers or indeed to many HSE officers.
When the Countess of Mar asked for whom this document was intended
she never got an answer.
An HSE officer in Plymouth gave a copy of MS
17 to OPIN in 1992, asking that we should not disclose his name,
since when we have been sending copies to the 780 OP sufferers
on our database, as well as to the many health professionals who
contact us asking for information. This document contains the
type of information which should be made available to doctors,
as recommended by Sir S Zuckerman in his committee report to MAFF
in 1951, Toxic Chemicals in Agriculture (HMSO).
MS 17 states that "subacute exposure to
OP pesticides can produce harmful effects in man", and that
"repeated exposure at lower doses may cause insidious cumulative
toxicity". It lists the type of occupational sources of exposure
as manufacture and packaging, transport, storage and distribution,
application and use and handling used containers. It says that
the most common routes of exposure are via skin, eyes and the
respiratory tract, and that solvents used in certain formulations
(such as sheep dips) can penetrate protective clothing. Most importantly
it lists symptoms of OP poisoning, such as headache, giddiness,
loss of appetite, nausea and diarrhoea, impaired co-ordination,
blurred vision, excessive salivation and sweating, increased bronchial
secretions, bradycardia with decreased cardiac output, and hypotension.
It continues: urinary incontinence, abdominal pain, vomiting and
broncho-contriction and various non-specific psycho-motor effects,
such as apprehension, anxiety, restlessness, irritability, depression,
sleep problems, expressive language defects and changes of mood,
lack of concentration, memory impairment and slowed reaction time.
MS 17 contained all this information in 1981,
but it was not until a variety of consultants had laboriously
perfected neurological testing apparatus and ways of detecting
neuropsychological cognitive impairment that the medical profession
had any idea that such damage could be caused by OP exposure (much
of which has been criticised or ignored even now).
The deliberate suppression of this document,
which should have been made available to all rural GPs as well
as users of OPs, undoubtedly exacerbated, if not caused, much
of the suffering experienced by farmers, who had no idea what
was wrong with them. What was worse was then being confronted
by the ignorance among the health professionals encountered by
sick and frightened farmers. There must be an explanation as to
how this came about, and why.
Dr Rawbone, the author of the new, updated MS
17 has told OPIN that he was determined that this new revision
will be made very widely available. I hope that such a guarantee
can be given.