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Agriculture workers demand compensation for e -

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Agriculture workers demand compensation for exposure to toxic herbicide

AM - Friday, 22 October , 2004 08:24:00

Reporter: Anne Barker

TONY EASTLEY: The West Australian Government is under pressure to compensate hundreds of
agricultural workers in the Kimberley region, who were affected by herbicides up to 30 years ago.

A parliamentary inquiry has confirmed for the first time that a rogue batch of the herbicide 245T
was brought to Australia in the early 1970's. The Kimberley workers have long argued the herbicide
they worked with was damaged and highly toxic, but the Government has resisted calls for widespread
compensation.

As Anne Barker reports, the workers have accused the Government of waiting for them to die and for
their compensation claims to disappear with them.

ANNE BARKER: In the 70's and 80's hundreds of men - mostly indigenous - were employed to spray
weeds in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. The weed killers they used included
245T, the key component of Agent Orange which was used as a defoliant in the Vietnam war.

30 years on, scores of the men have died and dozens more have suffered decades of ill health, from
headaches and nausea, to blindness, heart attacks and cancer. And ever since then, men like Carl
Drysdale, have blamed the chemicals for their condition, and demanded compensation.

CARL DRYSDALE: I had a heart attack when I was 36 and I've had 20 years of serious illness, and
unable to work. We don't get welfare, we don't get any benefits like, you know, pharmaceutical
benefits or anything. We pay for everything.

ANNE BARKER: For years the Kimberley workers have believed they were victims of a rogue batch of
the chemical that was damaged by fire and dumped in Australia during the Vietnam War.

Carl Drysdale says he remembers gallons of the stuff in unlabelled drums - it was sticky and black
like molasses, unlike normal 245T.

Only now, a parliamentary inquiry has confirmed that 23,000 litres of the damaged chemical was
imported from Singapore and used to produce a super toxic batch - 200 times more toxic than usual.

But there's no documentary proof that any of the drums found their way to the Kimberley.

The Greens committee member Robin Chapple says exactly where the drums ended up remains a mystery.

ROBIN CHAPPLE: If it was dumped, we don't know where it was dumped, we don't know - and was it
dumped on the market - we don't know. So there's a whole raft of questions in... just even in that
answer.

ANNE BARKER: So does this report vindicate the workers involved or does it dash their hopes all
together of any compensation?

ROBIN CHAPPLE: Oh no, I just think that this is just another brick in the building of the wall for
compensation.

ANNE BARKER: But the report is hardly encouraging for men like Carl Drysdale. Only one Kimberley
worker has ever received compensation for the ill effects of 245T. And men without cancer have to
provide scientific proof that the chemical caused their ill health - the report's findings don't
support their claims

But Carl Drysdale refuses to give in. He wants the government to lift a six-year limit on
prosecutions, to allow the workers to sue their former employer.

CARL DRYSDALE: We feel one hundred per cent certain that we could easily prove our case in a court
of law. If they don't want to give us compensation, we should be given the opportunity to sue the
Agriculture Protection Board in a court of law, and let an adjudication in a court of law take
place.

TONY EASTLEY: Carl Drysdale, speaking to Anne Barker. And the West Australian Government is
expected to respond to the report later today.

(c) 2006 ABC