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Concerns over use of farm-based organophosphates

Leading lawyer calls for inquiry into the compulsory use of farm-based organophosphates

20 April 2015

A report in the Guardian claims that government officials knew of the dangers to farmers of using organophosphate-based (OP) chemicals but refused to end their use throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

The chemicals were used in sheep dip to protect sheep against parasites. The use of the chemicals was mandated by government until 1992 by which time it is estimated at least 500 farmers across the UK were left with debilitating health problems associatedwith its use.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) survey of farmers from 1991, just released following a freedom of information request, appears to show that despite repeated denials from successive UK governments, ministers had been warned that organophosphate use was linked to health risks.

The HSE report says: “Repeated absorption of small doses [can] have a cumulative effect and can result in progressive inhibition of nervous system cholinesterase.”

According to the Guardian newspaper, during the same month as this report was published internally in May 1991, John Gummer, then farming minister, demanded local authorities clamp down on farmers who refused to use the chemical.

Gene Matthews, a Partner within the product liability team at law firm Leigh Day, who has acted for a number of clients affected by dangerous chemicals, said:

“The fact that the Health and Safety Executive was aware as far back as 1991 of the health risks associated with organophosphate use is shocking, particularly given that such knowledge has been denied for decades.”

The link between repeated, low-level use of the chemical and chronic ill health, including serious neurological damage, continues to be denied.

However, according to the Guardian, a leading toxicologist has found that there is evidence of neurological harm as a result of long-term, low-level exposure.

Mr Matthews concluded: “The alleged dangers of these types of chemicals have been known for a long time and it now seems that officials also knew that they could have a grave impact on the health of those repeatedly exposed to them.

"An official inquiry is now the best way forward in order to establish the truth, this is the least that affected farmers deserve.”

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