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Thursday, 19 August 1993
Page: 420

Senator BELL (10.56 p.m.) —I think that by now most members of the Senate would be well aware of my continuing campaign to bring to this place the examples of the misuse of chemicals within our society. I continue that tonight. I bring to this chamber tonight the case study story of Pat Snowden.

  After helping her husband in the cleaning industry in the early years of her marriage, Pat Snowden was bewildered by the various debilitating symptoms that suddenly affected her. Like most people who take pride in their work, she fought to stay on, but in the end she had to resign because of continuing ill-health.

  She had never previously considered chemicals as an explanation of that ill-health until directly after x-rays her doctor asked her, `Have you ever been exposed to chemicals other than in cleaning?' At first, through her naivety at the time, she began to inquire about the ammonia content of the heavy-duty cleaning products that she used. But then later, through further diligent searching, she found what she believes to be the responsible chemical, known as 2-butoxyethanol or ethylene glycol mono butyl ether.

  Pat says that she attempted to bring the subject to the attention of people whom she thought would immediately understand the problem, but her efforts fell on deaf medical and bureaucratic ears and many of these people were openly scornful of her. She felt that she had been denigrated, ridiculed and left without the medical attention that should have been given to lung damage and industrial asthma, a diagnosis which had never been passed on to her.

  She believed that governments never permitted people to use chemicals without labelling and providing suitable warnings of danger. She says, `All those years I struggled against an unknown poisonous substance and there are others who are suffering as well'. In her opinion, the people who were at that time considered experts were in fact not sufficiently qualified to understand the pattern of poisoning caused by this particular chemical. Consequently, she learnt the same lesson that many other pesticide victims have learnt, and that is that very few people, if any—including medical specialists, local GPs and government health authorities—can recognise the symptoms of chemical poisoning.

  In November 1989, Pat Snowden said that she left a written report at the Victorian Department of Labour in Nauru House. It was directed to the attention of Mr Pope, showing him the scientific adverse effects of this chemical and her fears about its use. She received no reply. In April 1991, a full report was placed with a senior ACC member asking for an investigation into her allegations, and still no reply—still no action taken on her behalf.

  Despite the ongoing debilitating effects from the excessive chemical exposure, Pat Snowden continued to search and supply the so-called experts with the scientific evidence of the toxic effects of this chemical and its related compounds. She feels entitled to know from each and every person who ignored her symptoms or belittled her in their professional capacity why she was treated so badly in view of the fact that the information she fought so hard to find was so readily available to them.

  Pat Snowden had the normal childhood illnesses. Nevertheless, she did not need any other medical attention between the ages of eight to 21 years, at which time she had an appendectomy. During her working life she held managerial positions from 16 years of age, including one as a cash controller, until 1985. She married at 20 years of age and had four children.

  Her husband's main occupation was a carpenter and he supplemented his income by working part-time as a cleaner. Sometimes Pat helped him and the children went with them. Gradually, both began to suffer illnesses they had not experienced before, while the children and Pat showed symptoms that her local doctor could not identify. He was perplexed and was unable to diagnose the white lumps with black tops which presented in Pat and her baby son. These broke out on almost every part of the body, including legs and genitalia. Her doctor even suggested that the case should be presented to the Australian Medical Journal.

  Finally, Pat and her husband were so upset by continuing illnesses, which they blamed on their home for want of any other reason, that they moved away and purchased a milk bar. During the 11 months in the business, she was still ill and suffered constant bleeding thought to be period related, loss of hair, weight loss down to five stone and spasmodic shaking. The business was sold and the health problems gradually diminished. Her next working experience was at the Sandringham police station as a part-time cleaner.

  During this period she suffered from migraines, pumped up feelings in her head, dreadful pain in the legs, loss of circulation, anaemia, narcolepsy, memory loss, deafness, very loud speech, red eyes, tears for no reason, dreadful cold and the inability to write. She could not follow recipes, lacked concentration and had shocking nightmares. There was a cobwebby feeling over her eyes, urine and faeces incontinence, appalling body and faeces odour and sudden drowsiness and slurred speech. She recognised a sudden irrational dislike of people, salivation then dry mouth, excruciating pain in the right chest; a cold icy feeling in the right side—very complicated symptoms, as anyone would recognise. She could not even hold light weights and at times she could not walk straight. Among other problems, she learnt in the early part of her illness that medication made her worse and she refused it from then onwards.

  The symptoms changed and she began to feel afraid. Reluctantly, she took a month off work and was tested for cancer because of the debilitating illnesses. The results were negative. The doctor suggested it was depression, which she knew could not be correct. She said that she was so ill, she felt she was dying. She spent three weeks out of a month's leave in bed and the symptoms lessened a little.

  She went back to work but the promised help did not eventuate. All of the symptoms returned plus others. There were pains in the right side of her chest and right arm; she was unable to breathe easily and bruising began. Then, Pat had to take two days a week off from work because she could not stand the dreadful head pains. In the end she began to hear voiced thoughts. She struggled to continue but she was having six-hour narcolepsy attacks which began about three-quarters of an hour after leaving work. It was then she decided she could no longer drive safely.

  She revisited her doctor and again he wanted her to take anti-depressants. Once again she refused because it was not her habit to take medication. She struggled back to work but, through her failing health, she was forced to leave on 2 December, 1988. Today, Pat says:

I still suffer burning and soreness in my lungs and I find it hard to breathe. There is numbness in my left leg, a lump in my right side under my ribs, my chest feels like lead. Sometimes, I suffer short-term memory loss and the inability to walk up a few steps without feeling leg pain. However, there is no narcolepsy nor anaemia. Without medical help, I found ways to ease some of the symptoms and I believe by doing so, I have managed to stay alive.

That terrible story that I bring to the Senate tonight is one for which there has been no explanation other than this person's exposure to chemicals through her work. She is just one of the thousands of Australians who have not been properly diagnosed or catered for with regard to the health problems that they have suffered as a result of exposure to chemicals during their work or their normal daily occupation. It is because of the inability of any other standard system to cater for the needs of these people that I will continue to bring their case studies to this place. I will continue to argue that there needs to be action taken—which may need to be legislative action—to properly regulate the way we use chemicals in Australia.