1960’s – 1980’s: Sugarcane farmer health issues: Pesticides: 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, DDT, DDE, Dieldrin

I left school at 15 and worked on my father’s farm for three years. I picked grapes for another two or three years after that and then in 1958 I began cutting cane by hand. In 1972 I bought a cane harvester and was employed as a contractor on a seasonal basis. I worked long hours, seven days a week.

Because I was healthy I could take the pace. Part of my job involved washing down the harvester with a high pressure spray. The water was taken from the cane drains and would hit the machine then bounce back, covering me. I had to spray underneath the machine too, so I was always wet. This process would go on for two hours every week. Often I would take mouthfuls of water and although it tasted poisonous I never thought twice about it. The farmers whom I contracted for knew that pesticides were in the water as they regularly sprayed the drains with 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T to keep them free of weeds. They could see I was covered from head to toe with the contaminated water but nothing was ever said. I began to feel sick during the ’84 cane season and had to quit work at the end of the ’85 season.

I’ve been to see lots of doctors. Many of my symptoms are recognised as being consistent with pesticide poisoning. They include eye irritation, bladder problems, excess saliva, bleeding from the nose and from the bowel. I also get tingling in the hands and around the mouth and in the feet and have regular sickness in the stomach. I also get muscles jumping in various parts of my body, have headaches, a fever-like sensation and nausea.

The doctors say that my major symptoms are constitutional. I can’t concentrate well any more and get tired very easily. I get dizzy and irritable too. In 1988 I had blood taken by Dr Ryan and sent over to America. The results showed massive levels of DDE, a breakdown product of DDT. The average for the US population of DDE in blood is 5.6 ppb and I measured 62.6. My dieldrin and xylene levels were way over too. Some of the doctors I have seen concur with my view that I have been poisoned with pesticides. The government doctor doesn’t think so though but when he took a blood sample, only a few pesticides were measured. They did DDT itself and got 17ppb but didn’t measure the DDE though. The government doctor said that these measurements ‘are not considered to indicate any significant degree of pesticide contamination. I’m going to continue with my compensation case though, as I am sure that I’ve been poisoned. p110/111 Quick Poison Slow Poison. Pesticide Risk in the Lucky Country. Kate Short 1994