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Fishermen Offered Toxin Blood Tests

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From: AAP By Drew Cratchley

April 20, 2006

SYDNEY commercial fishers would be offered blood tests by the New South Wales Government after it was revealed some had up to 10 times the average level of toxic chemicals in their bodies.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma made the announcement today after an ABC TV report revealed a group of fishermen who ate fish from the harbour three to four times each week showed high levels of dioxins in their blood.

Dioxins are toxic chemicals that can concentrate in body fat and cause serious skin lesions.

Mr Iemma said the health department will offer up to 42 commercial fishers and their families government-funded blood tests, with the results to be examined by local and interstate doctors.

A 1800 information phone line also will be set up for people who fish in Sydney harbour.

"We want them (the tests) done as soon as possible so the Department of Health is starting the process now," Mr Iemma said.

They're establishing the clinical expertise that's required to do the tests, make contact with fishermen and their immediate family and then have those tests referred to the expert panel."

The announcement came soon after a boat protest by Sydney harbour fishermen near the Sydney Opera House.

Keith Sewell, a fisherman on Sydney harbour for 42 years, welcomed the move, but said pollution in the harbour needed to be cleaned up.

"The bottom line is I want the dioxin cleaned up," Mr Sewell said at the protest.

"Most of the fisherman want ... to stop the dioxin from leaching into the harbour and we want the harbour back as a working harbour for fishing grounds."

Opposition environment spokesman Michael Richardson said the blood tests would not go far enough in ensuring the health of Sydney fishers.

"What these fishermen and their families need is ongoing health management, not just blood tests," Mr Richardson said.

He also called on the Government to clean up the Parramatta River at Homebush Bay, where the majority of the chemicals were entering Sydney harbour.

"It may never be safe to eat fish from the harbour again unless they do the job properly," Mr Richardson said.

Greens MP Ian Cohen said the dioxins in the harbour posed a health risk to the greater Sydney population, and called for a ban on recreational fishing.

"To allow recreational fishing and eating of Sydney harbour seafood to continue would be reckless," Mr Cohen said.

"It is not just the fisherman themselves who might be eating the catch.

"There is a lot of 'recreational' catch being sold privately and directly to restaurants."

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