• Former shire workers want the WA Government to acknowledge workers were exposed to Agent Orange chemicals during the 1970s and 80s (ABC/ 4 Corners)Source: ABC/ 4 Corners
Families and former workers contracted by the Agriculture Protection Board during the 1970s and 1980s are demanding the WA Government acknowledge workers were exposed to Agent Orange herbicides.
Rangi Hirini

6 Feb 2020 - 4:00 PM  UPDATED 6 Feb 2020 - 4:08 PM

A group of Aboriginal families are appealing to the Western Australian Government to set up a compensation scheme for former workers who claim to have been affected by the use of Agent Orange while spraying weeds in the Kimberley region in the 1970s and 1980s.

It is believed more than 1200 Aboriginal men were contracted by the Agriculture Protection Board (APB) during this period, spraying highly toxic chemicals without being provided with any protective gear during their time in the weeding program.

The chemical solution they used is widely known as Agent Orange- TCDD- a combination of two potent herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. The defoliant was notoriously used by the US forces during the American-Vietnam War.

Over the past 40 years, a number of former Kimberley shire workers say they have developed serious health concerns from their years of unprotected exposure to the herbicide including blindness, skin irritation, headaches, internal bleeding and even cancer.

Nyikina man Richard Edward Greatorex worked for the APB during his younger years spraying the chemicals in the West Kimberley, he said he went blind after six months of working for APB. 

He has now been blind for 35 years and said doctors told him his blindness is not from any other sickness.

Mr Edwards Greatorex said workers were told the herbicide was 'safe enough to drink'. 

“Over the years it has affected me through and through, sometimes I think to myself have I been in Vietnam War,” he said.

“I lost my best friend last year, me and him use to play sports, we worked together thinking that this Agent Orange would not affect us, years later it started to come into a group and everyone started to look at each other and wonder are we next."

Cyril Hunter was an APB worker who sprayed the herbicide throughout the Kimberley region, he died in his sleep, at 33 years old, after suffering from a number of health issues including extreme weight loss, sores on his body, and chronic fatigue.

Mr Hunter’s death was the first suspicious death of a Kimberley APB worker employed in weeding programs. 

His former partner, Susan Sinclair has been campaigning for justice for Mr Hunter and their son Nigel, who died in 2010 at age 31 after a battle with leiomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer.

Workers would spend 10 days out on country, doing what they believed was caring for their country by spraying the weeds. Mrs Sinclair said her late partner loved his job. 

She wants the state government to admit that workers had been exposed to the toxic chemical. 

“Listen, it’s not alleged, we’re not telling a lie, we just want you to acknowledge it and say to us ‘yes, the deaths that happened did occur from the use of this chemical, sorry’,” Mrs Sinclair said. 

In 2018, WA Health Minister Roger Cook refuted claims by his own Health Department that Agent Orange was used to spray weeds decades ago.

NITV News reached out to Minister Cook and are still waiting for a response. 

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