1983 August – Fixed Spray Installation Systems. Pesticide detected: Dichlorvos

Spraying with dichlorvos started in August 1983. It went on every day between 2 and 3 am til August 1984. The day before spraying commenced the Secretary/Manager of the club told us that there would be an automatic spray going off and not to get worried with the noise it made as it could not harm anybody. On the morning of the 19 November 1983, Manfred collapsed outside the Bistro. He managed to crawl downstairs to the auditorium where he was found slumped in a chair. He complained of chest pains, numbness in both legs and arms, blurred visions, sore and burning eyes. His tongue felt swollen, he had difficulty talking and was grey in the face with purplish coloured lips. We took him to Ryde Hospital immediately.

At that stage we didn’t connect Dad’s symptoms with his exposure to dichlorvos, and so we did not tell the Hospital that he had collapsed when his workplace. The doctor told us that he seemed to have suffered a heart attack and a specialist later remarked that he could not get over Manfred’s remarkable recovery. Meanwhile the rest of us were working in the gas daily. *** was experiencing breathing difficulties and muscular aches and the doctor diagnosed bronchitis. She had chest pains as well, but was given an all clear by the heart specialist.

We cleaned in The Bistro every day. It was totally closed when the gas went off. The lights to this room were in the ladies toilet at the far end of the room, and to turn them on we just took a deep breath and ran through the gas with our breath held. When you looked back into the room you couldn’t see anything but a heavy mist. The whole place was totally white with the mist and it fell on your skin when you went through. All of us were suffering from the same symptoms and rashes. We also had massive weight loss without being on diets and were all very moody, aggressive and extremely tired.

In March 1984 we started another contract cleaning job at another RSL Club. The spray went off when we were inside the club. Although it was only supposed to go off once a week, it went off on numerous occasions each week. Manfred started asking for details about the gas and both the assistant manager and the spokesperson for the company that hired out the gas cylinders told him it was not residual and would not harm humans. There were no warning signs except in the assistant manager’s office. In late January 1986, the company changed over to another pesticide. We were sacked in March 1986 and always felt that it was our complaints about the gas that caused our dismissal.

Meanwhile *** and Manfred didn’t get any better. They were referred to a toxicologist because their GP couldn’t work out what was wrong with them. The specialist gave them tests and recommended a solicitor who could handle the compensation and damages suit. But *** and Dad were only trying to find out what was wrong with them, not take out a suit against the clubs. They wanted to stop it happening to anybody else.

The solictor handled the case for four and a half years but nothing was done. In mid 1990 we rang the Total Environment Centre and they recommended that we transfer our case to a lawyer who specialises in this sort of poisoning. Things have moved much quicker since then.

Dad died on the 14th of April, 1990, aged 57. He was reasonably healthy during his last six months except for experiencing a loss of hearing on his left side and a loss of hearing in his left ear. We are waiting for the coroner’s results and would like an enquiry into Manfred’s death. *** Gladesville NSW, July 1990.

p95/6 Quick Poison Slow Poison Pesticide Risk in the Lucky Country. Kate Short 1994