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Fishermen Denied Key Health Test

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THE State Government has ignored advice from the NSW Food Authority's chief scientist who said Sydney Harbour fishermen and their families are at risk from dioxin poisoning and should be considered "special cases".

Despite the advice from the chief scientist, and pleas and protests by the fishers themselves, the Government has refused to provide blood tests.

Documents released to The Daily Telegraph under Freedom of Information show the fishermen have clearly been exposed to unacceptable levels of dioxins and should be tested.

Commercial prawn fishing was banned in December and fin fishing in January after high levels of dioxins were found in Harbour marine life.

Dioxins, stored in body tissue and linked to cancer and birth defects, were picked up by prawns and bottom-feeding fish such as bream in the sediment off Homebush Bay.

The documents show that eating Harbour prawns twice a month would put someone at risk of "ill effects from the intake of dioxins".

But many fishermen contacted by The Daily Telegraph say that until the ban was implemented they and their families ate large amounts of prawns three or four times a week.

While eating more than about 300g of Harbour prawns a month would put someone above acceptable levels of dioxins, many fishermen said they ate about 8kg of prawns a month for years. Their families had also consumed large amounts.

An internal report by NSW Food Authority chief scientist Stefan Fabiansson on November 30 last year made special mention of commercial Harbour fishermen.

"When considering the risk, fishermen and their families must be considered as special cases with easy access to prawns as would recreational fishermen and their families," he said.

Senior adviser to the National Toxics Network Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith yesterday said the Government might be refusing to offer the tests because it was afraid of the results.

She said it was important fishermen's wives and females in the families of child-bearing age are tested.

"These people have a right to know their dioxin levels so they can take it into account before planning a family. The Government cannot just say these people don't have a right to know."

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