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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 25. 2nd October 1975

Ivan Watkins Dow — Poisons, Defoliants, Napalm

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Ivan Watkins Dow

Poisons, Defoliants, Napalm

Ivan Watkins Dow is the New Plymouth based company that manufactures and supplies New Zealand with agricultural and industrial chemicals. They operate in New Zealand on a 50% equity with Dow chemicals, one of the largest chemical companies in the U.S. which has more than 55 manufacturing locations outside America. There are three important aspects of IWD's activities in N.Z.:
1.Their manufacture of the toxic poison 245-T, and the linkage of 245-T in this country with certain birth deformities.
2.Their manufacture of polystyrene, a chemical substance used in napalm.
3.Their attempts to sell defoliant to the U.S. air force for use in Vietnam.

Lesserly, IWD has received Colombo Plan monies from the government to extend its market activities in Thailand, and at home could be considered a major ecological pollutant.

Ivan Watkins Dow makes detergents, sheep dips, insecticides and herbicides, etc. and markets these products under three groups. The bio-products group markets agricultural and horticultural chemicals. The chemicals group markets detergents and brake fluids, caustic soda, cleaning applications, chlorinated solvents and other chemicals used in areosols. The plastics group markets moulding and extrusion products, coatings and monomers, packaging and construction products and polystyrene. Ivan Watkins Dow are the biggest proponents of chemical farming in New Zealand. As it is they make the basic detergent chemicals used in nearly all New Zealand's packed detergents.

In November, a part of IWD's plant in New Plymouth exploded. IWD announced that the explosion was caused by pressure in a chemical mixing vessel. The vessel was being used to mix chemicals for a herbicide. A staff reporter for the Taranaki Herald described the explosion as a 'big ball of orange flame and dark smoke that went up with a whoosh in a mushroom. When the flame had flickered and faded a pall of smoke was left rising against the darkening sky.' When asked by the Taranaki Herald for further details as to exactly what type of mixture the vessel had contained, IWD's production supervisor declined to elaborate. It is curiously interesting to note that New Plymouth has the highest national rate of congenital (birth) abnormalities, at 29.4 per thousand births Substantial increases (some as much as 100%) in the incidence of congenital abnormalities have occurred all over New Zealand in the last decade. Assistant Director of Health Dr. C.A. Collins said in a press statement when these figures were released that 'there was nothing to get alarmed about,' and put down the increases to 'earlier diagnosing and increased notification of congenital abnormality.' The greatness of the percent increase of congenital abnormality in New Plymouth could possibly be linked to the fact that all of New Zealand's 245-T, the toxic poison that is suspected of causing some incidences of congenital abnormality, is manufactured in New Plymouth. There is no doubt as to the toxic properties of 245-T. In the U.S. agricultural use of 245-T is banned from use near water and around homes. No such restrictions exist in this country. Ivan Watkins Dow is the largest manufacturer of 245-T in New Zealand.

Dan Watkins once explained in an interview how the company got started... he had a gallon of 24-D sent from the States, divided it up into little aspirin bottles, and sent it to various people whom he thought might be interested in this weedkiller's potential in New Zealand. Today, the Managing Director of IWD is appointed by Dow Chemicals U.S. as is the General Manager and several other-top managerial employees. They are usually American. The current Managing Director at IWD is Mr. R.F. Bollen, and the General Manager is Howard Visger, who are both Americans. Dan Watkins, Chairman of IWD, is a New Zealander.

Ivan Watkins Dow runs a competition called the Rongo Competition which effectively tries to buy the favour of agricultural journalists. Entrants have to submit two written articles or T.V. scripts illustrating significant technological advances in N.Z. agriculture. The first prize is $200. The Guild of Agricultural Journalists administers the competition on behalf of IWD but one of the three judges is N.N. Webb a director of IWD. (It is further interesting to note that Webb is also a former Director General of Agriculture in New Zealand.) Every quarter, IWD puts out a glossy magazine, which promotes the activities of IWD in New Zealand, and is part of a massive public relations programme. The magazine, ironically enough, is called 'Service'. It is the custom of 'Service' to include editorials by leading civil servants, cabinet ministers and even Prime Ministers. This is an important public relations tactic to ensure that the chemicals industry retains a respectable veneer in this country. Although IWD has, as its parent company, one of the largest and most highly profitable chemical companies in the world, IWD recently received money from the Industrial Research and Development Grants Advisory Committee in this country.......a government fund that was presumably not set up to help certain foreign companies make bigger better profits in this country.

In 1971 Ivan Watkins Dow sales activity in Thailand was almost subsidised by New Zealand Colombo Plan monies. This subsidisation, called by the government an 'agricultural extension programme for Thailand' almost cost the N.Z. taxpayer a quarter of a million dollars, and was to have been a two year project. The main aims were to evaluate and demonstrate the benefits of advanced chemical agricultural practices to a selected number of Thai farmers.... i.e. to promote the products of Ivan Watkins Dow in Thailand. Ivan Watkins Dow and the N.Z. government called this 'aid'. Keith Holyoake said in an editorial in 'Service' after the Colombo Plan monies had been extended to IWD, 'One of New Zealand's major interests is to help in the social and economic development of S.E. Asia.' What he could have more aptly said was 'One of N.Z.'s major interests should be helping the U.S. to socially and economically exploit S.E. Asia." In fact Holyoake unwittingly admitted the exploitative nature of the Colombo Plan in the same editorial when he said that 'Colombo Plan students to New Zealand are investments in human resources' and that the 'development of our aid programme has provided new opportunities for New Zealand's business and professional men'.

Ivan Watkins Dow made a feasibility study first in 1970, before embarking on their Thailand programme. It is highly unlikely that IWD would have embarked on the Thailand/ Colombo Plan scheme if it couldn't have been seen to have been profitable. Profit and exploitation often enough masquerade under the term 'aid'. Interestingly, Thailand is one of the few South East Asian countries that grows more rice than it eats and in fact is the second largest exporter of rice after the U.S., so it seemed from the outset to be an unlikely candidate for Colombo Plan 'aid'. In 'Thailand — My Truth' Pete Lusk, ex VSA worker in Thailand, wrote on the government IWD 'aid' scheme: 'To us up in Khon Keen, the whole thing seemed crazy. For a start the farmers had been using chemicals for years. There were German, U.S. and Thai firms all in the game and they all had their Thai born and bred extension officers already in the field. New Zealand was going to come in with green kiwis and staff from the Thai Ag. Dept and try and compete. Perhaps it would have been justified if IWD was going to teach the farmers how to select the best chemicals for their crop, or how to shop around the various companies for the cheapest chemicals..... but New Zealand was in it simply to hock off dope like everyone else and to establish a market for IWD under the guise of 'aid'. Furthermore, this 'aid' programme wasn't seen to be very much help as far as the Thais were concerned for they told New Zealand they couldn'y accept this 'aid' and the IWD programme fell flat.

Photo of planes spraying chemicals

U.S. warplanes sprayed Dow defoliant over Vietnam during the height of the Vietnam war. The defoliant contained the birth deforming agent dioxin.

Dow Chemicals (U.S.) outspoken chairman has no qualms about the expansionist nature of his company and its subsidiaries like IWD. C.A. Gerstacker has been frequently quoted on the topic of Asian/Pacific expansion as saying he dreams of an island where multinational businesses can operate 'beholden to no nation or society'.

Ivan Watkins Dow is the largest manufacturer of the toxic poison 245-T in New Zealand. 245-T contains Dioxin, which if it enters a body by drinking water, inhalation of aerial spray or absorption through the skin, over the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, can deform a foetus. In 1973, CM. Collins, Assistant Director of Public Health said in a letter: 'I cannot accept that 245-T is one of the known causes of congenital abnormalities'. But there have been many examples just in New Zealand over the past decade to prove that this is not the case. Two Te Awamutu doctors identified dioxin as being responsible for the death of two badly similarly deformed babies born in that town in 1972. The mothers had both drawn their water supply from an area sprayed with the chemical 245-T early in their pregnancies. They lived on adjacent properties. Soon afterwards two South Island women reported that they too had given birth to deformed babies and remembered that 245-T had been sprayed close by early in their pregnancies. In 1967 a New Zealand farmer lost 54 calves in a herd of 120 after using the chemical for spraying blackberries. He also said that his new herd, obtained at the time of spraying, had suffered 77 cases of mummified foetus. A dog breeder who bred in an area sprayed with 245-T reported that puppies without eyes and legs were born to his German shepherds. Another dual birth deformity occurred in Taranaki where two farmers' wives each gave birth to babies with cleft palates and hare lips. Tests which have been made on rabbits injected with dioxin have shown the development of cleft palates as an initial deformity. In Vietnam, the defoliant chemical Agent Orange (containing 245-T and Dioxin) is widely believed to be the cause of Vietnam's huge incidence of birth deformities. A scientist from the University of Montana said in November 1973 that dioxin was still believed to be present in South Vietnam's soil. Some figures released have shown that Vietnam's infant mortality rate is abnormally high, even disregarding the war factor. 30 - 60% of all newborn babies are believed to die before the age of six. In the Spring/Summer issue of IWD's magazine 'Service' the editorial issued a solace to the disturbed public with the words 'Ivan Watkins Dow has long accepted that products produced by the company must not disrupt the natural chain or add to the degradation of our natural environment.' Top ranking N.Z. administrators refused to recognise the dangers of 245-T and its dioxin content. The New Zealand Agricultural Chemicals Board is charged by statute with being vigilant on behalf of the public in cases such as these. But Chairman of the Board Mr. P.J. Clark said (1970): 'There is no evidence to show that abnormalities in humans could be caused by 245-T.' The same man said in IWD's magazine 'Service' in 1971 referring to the criticism levelled at 245-T etc. 'We live in a climate with a critical public whose emotional state can be very close to a condition of unstable equilibrium.' (I) In 1972 Professor E.G. McQueen, Director of the National Poisons Information Centre said, commenting on the 245-T controversy that it was "quite irresponsible......just a storm in a teacup" and there is no reason at all for concern." Again in 'Service' 1971 Dan Watkins said 'For more than two decades 245-T has been compatible with the environment. This well tried tool of agriculture has now come under critical study. Extremists without regard for the consequences are even suggesting it should be banned!' In 1972, the Agricultural Chemicals Board conceded that dioxin in weed killer must be reduced from one part per million to 01 p.p. million. Scientists had come to an agreement that the safe daily dose of dioxin for a pregnant woman was 000063 of a gram per kilogram of body weight. IWD was forced to announce that the reduction of dioxin could be achieved in a year. In 1973, Tizard, the then Minister of Health was informed by IWD that dioxin had finally been removed from 245-T by a solvent extraction process and was stored at first in 44 gallon drums on the IWD site at New Plymouth. Later it was transferred to specially designed chemical liquid incinerators on the company's site in New Plymouth. The design of this equipment had been arrived at in consultation with the Dept. of Health. Although this was a major step forward New Zealand had suffered unrestricted use of 245-T for many years. In Canta April 1972 Bob Mann suggested that the reason why 245-T had enjoyed such an unrestricted use in New Zealand was because the Agricultural Chemicals Board was made up of users and producers of chemicals. He suggested that some scientists be added.

IWD's strength on the N.Z. market is through polystyrene. One of its major uses has been to make napalm more adhesive on the human body. Napalm is essentially burning gasoline. It burns on the human body at a temperature of 2060° Centigrade. It is dropped by aircraft in cannisters. When the cannisters reach the ground they explode on impact, showering the napalm over an area of 2500 square yards. Napalm kills by causing burning wounds and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Dow Chemicals, IWD's U.S. parent company, were the major producers of polystyrene for America's Napalm B programme in Vietnam. Napalm B consisted of 50% polystyrene to make it stickier. U.S. production of polystyrene for Napalm B in 1967 was running at 25 million pounds a month. U.S. expenditure on napalm for Vietnam at one stage was running to $2,949,929 a month.

In 1967 IWD began negotiations with the U.S. government for a contract to make defoliants for use by the USAF in Vietnam. After much national criticism of this move in N.Z., the U.S. embassy assured N.Z. that the U.S. government did not intend buying any defoliant whatever from N.Z. sources. In 1970 it was leaked by a member of staff at IWD, that IWD 'had at no stage not considered selling defoliants for use in Vietnam.' It is possible that the defoliants turned down by the U.S. government could have been sent to Hong Kong and then flown back to Vietnam. The type of defoliant that has been used most extensively in Vietnam is called Agent Orange, a 1:1 mixture of 24-D and 245-T. Defoliation was used in Vietnam to deny the 'enemy' cover, and thus prevent guerilla activity. When forests are sprayed with this chemical the leaves drop after 2 - 3 weeks and the trees may remain bare for several months. About one in ten trees fails to survive and if respraying occurs (which it often does, to prevent regrowth of the forest floor) as much as 70% of the forest may not survive. It has been estimated that as many as six million acres of forest in Vietnam have been cleared by Agent Orange since the start of the war. Half a million acres of forest were cleared in 1969 alone.

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The 245-T that the USAF used in Vietnam contained dioxin, the toxic poison that is now know to have foetus deforming properties. It is now widely believed that Vietnam's huge incidence of birth malformation is linked to the huge amount of 245-T defoliant used by the USAF in that country. In the American magazine Science (Vol. 155 1967 p 301) a picture showing U.S. planes spraying with defoliants in Vietnam is captioned 'Jungle Spraying — Harmless to Human and animal life.......temporarily effective against the dense vegetation.' Many scientists believe that the use of the defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam will prove more than 'temporarily effective',........rather, permanently destructive. Professor Buchanan wrote in his article 'Ecocide in Indo China: The U.S. is destroying the living environment in Vietnam which would sustain groups as yet unborn.' The U.S. National Academy of Science has concluded that the use of herbicide in the Vietnam War has caused wounds to the ecology of South Vietnam that might take a century to heal. Quantities of dioxon were recently found by the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) as far down the ecological scale as fish.

In 1967 the then Minister of Defence, Mr. Thompson, said in Inglewood that he considered defoliant a very 'useful tool' in 'assisting rejection of Vietnamese aggression in South Vietnam.' The use of defoliants he said, was comparable to the use by the Allies during World War Two of 'artificial moonlight' in Italy. He said (incorrectly) that the defoliant did not kill trees it merely 'stripped them' and added that 'our use was to defend South Vietnam'. 'The defoliant was in no way a crop killer' he said. But in 1967 it was U.S. policy to destroy rice crops in some areas under Vietcong control using the defoliant Agent Orange.

Later on in 1967 after IWD's decision to sell defoliant to the USAF had been rejected by the U.S. government, it was reported that IWD had sent its largest consignment ever of weedkiller out of the country. 75,000 lbs of the shipment was going to the U.S. later in December, but a current shipment appeared destined for the Philippines where, it was said, it would be used to assist nee growing. A letter was duly sent to Ivan Watkins Dow by Owen Wilkes requesting further information about the Philippines shipment. A series of replies eventuated that in no way shed light on the general surmise that this shipload of defoliant might be ultimately destined for Vietnam. Finally an unusually unequivocal letter was received from IWD's Public Relations Officer saying: 'We do not see that there is anything further to explain about exports to the Philippines. We have never manufactured defoliants for use in Vietnam, have never sent any, nor can we dictate to buyers the destination of herbicides we produce for weed control.' In an earlier letter IWD had reminded Owen Wilkes that the U.S. government decided not to buy defoliants from IWD for use in Vietnam. This,' they wrote, 'we account as a conclusive indication that supplies will not be going from New Zealand (to Vietnam) end us as manufacturers.' To most people this certainly was not a 'conclusive indication' that defoliant supplies were not going from IWD to Vietnam.

As early as 1973 Ivan Watkins Dow announced that they would be interested in the use of any 'spare' Maui gas for the possible establishment of a petrochemicals complex here in New Zealand.

From time to time you may see Ivan Watkins Dow advertisements in New Zealand magazines A recent advertisement in the NZ. Journal of Agriculture has a picture of a little girl eating a sandwhich, and captioned "What's IWD doing in a little girl's lunch box?' The answer at the bottom of the page reads: 'Keeping New Zealand healthy.'