Sawmill Workers Against Poisons group still battling for recognition and medical care

By Marena Mane

Last Friday and Saturday, Sawmill Workers Against Poisons, (SWAP) testified before an independent people's inquiry into the consequences and effects of hazardous chemicals and poisons on people, wildlife, and the environment.

The group was founded in 1996 by Whakatāne sawmill workers who were concerned about authorities' lack of response to escalating health issues.

The People's Inquiry is a coalition of organisations, groups, and individuals dedicated to promoting environmental health awareness and reducing the use of harmful chemicals and poisons in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

SWAP co-chair Kereama Akuhata says the presentation on Friday was powerful yet emotional as well.

In terms of whānau and whakapapa, Akuhata believes the presentation before the independent people's inquiry is critical.

“Our lives were affected, children were affected because their health may be compromised in the future.”

The 36 contaminated sites near Whakatāne, according to Akuhata, have harmed other whānau who aren't sawmill workers.

After 25 years, sawmill workers who were poisoned are still waiting for support and to be heard. According to Akuhata, this poisonous substance is known as "persistent organic pollutants," which can linger in the soil for 100 years, causing harm to human health and the ecosystem.

“It has the ability to enter the pores of your skin and into your bloodstream, your reproductive organs and do damage there,” he says.