1980’s: Perth. Pesticide of concern: Heptachlor

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My husband and I have five other healthy children. When I was six months pregnant with Gemma, the concrete foundation of our new extension was sprayed with heptachlor. I returned to the house two and a half hours after the spray and opened the front door. The odour of chemicals was very strong and I immediately retreated to the front verge without taking a step inside, thinking ‘you can’t go in there, you are six months pregnant and have two young children with you’. I had to feed the children and we went inside but stayed in the lounge room hoping that was the least affected. I wouldn’t allow the children into the kitchen or their bedrooms that day and didn’t feel happy putting them to bed that night. During that day, my eyes felt badly sunburnt and I became extremely tired and could hardly walk. The smell persisted for days. All three children vomited and the youngest had hideous nightmares, became noticeably aggressive and began to wet the bed. My four-year-old daughter completely lost her appetite and our nine-year-old son developed breathing problems and vocal chord congestion.

Then Gemma was born one month premature, blind and with a serious heart defect. She was delivered by emergency caesarian delivery. The doctor said that in another day she would have been a stillbirth. After a corneal graft Gemma was given a 50 per cent chance that she would gain even 3 per cent of her vision. The corneal graft was not successful but she can now see a little in the other eye.

When I contacted her opthalmologist and mentioned the heptachlor I was exposed to during pregancy, in case it had any bearing on Gemma’s subsequent treatment. He was sceptical and asked if I had genetic counselling. At a much later date I told him about the research I had done. I had discovered that the heptachlor spray contained 50 per cent xylene, and that the chemical caused opaque corneas in rabbits, and also in men, who had been oversprayed. The specialist said that he had not known that, and was quite concerned. ***, Perth October 1991.

*** continued her investigations into the causes of birth defects and identified five other similarly exposed women whose children were also blind. She eventually compiled a list of at least 50 women who had suffered the trauma of miscarriage, stillbirth, neo-natal death or birth abnormality. All of these women had been exposed to OC and other pesticides either just prior to, or during pregnancy. p57/8 Quick Poison Slow Poison. Pesticide Risk in the Lucky Country. Kate Short 1994.