After survival comes getting on with life
Anderson’s life changed forever in a few seconds on one October day in 1989. He
took a drink from his private water supply in Strathardle in Perthshire and
realised, too late, that it was contaminated. He had swallowed almost neat sheep
dip, a cocktail of organophosphates and phenols which immediately began to
destroy his nervous system.
On 21 January this year, making his
painfully slow way round his local supermarket - he has difficulty in walking
and spends much of his time in a wheelchair - he took a call on his mobile
His lawyer told him that, at almost the last minute, the
insurance company NFU Mutual had withdrawn from the legal action Anderson had
brought against them.
He said: "I had to sit down on a chair in Asda to
hear the lawyer say ‘it’s not what you asked for or wanted, but it’s the best
you are likely to get.’ I had about an hour to make up my mind. I settled. Since
then I’ve been in limbo - I know it’s settled after all these years, but there’s
no sense of closure, my ill health continues."
There have been many
suspected cases of poisoning by organophosphate in sheep dips, but usually the
cause was thought to be inhalation.
Anderson suspects that at least
2,000 farmers, shepherds and their families have been affected in Scotland
alone, most while dipping sheep in chemicals guaranteed to kill pests and
parasites such as lice and the sheep scab mite. But wives who have washed
working clothes with dip on them and children exposed to fumes have also been
affected. Anderson is probably unique in having drunk the chemical.
During the years in which he has become a lay expert in chemicals used
in sheep dips, he has concluded that organophosphates might not be the only
cause. It could be phenols, glycol ethers, epichlorohydrin and toluene, the
co-formulants in the dip.
He said: "Just because we become paranoid
doesn’t mean they’re not out to get us. It’s so complex an illness - my low
blood sugar most mornings is close to coma level and my high pulse rate close to
His greatest regret is that even at the time he took his
almost-fatal drink, a review of dips under a European directive of 1988 was
going on. A study, carried out by the Health and Safety Executive in 1991 but
never published, identified epichlorohydrin, glycol eithers, Thiram, phenols and
solvents - weak acids and powerful disinfectants - as a contributing cause to
problems experienced by people dipping sheep.
It was suggested in the
review that one particular dip, popular with farmers because it was cheap,
contravened 31 standards of safety and quality required by the Medicines Act.
But no action was taken to notify farmers and it was re-licenced with phenols
Anderson said: "I think that the Veterinary Medicine
Directorate, which was only set up by government in 1990, inherited a large mess
and was trying to clear it up. I’m still trying to tie together all the
information we have been given over the years to get at the truth. "
believes that the unpublished survey of 1991 showed the active ingredient of
most dips, diazinon, was unstable and became more toxic than expected when it
was added to the water in the dipping tank into which sheep are plunged.
It also became increasingly toxic as it got older: "An incredibly
complex chemical reaction took place. Used brand new, it was fine - but not when
it was several years old, as sometimes happens. The temperature and acidity of
the water in the dipper also affected toxicity."
We first spoke some
years ago when I wrote an article about my favourite smells on a farm and
included sheep dip. He told me, with the good humour that is seldom far away,
that not everyone would agree .
"When you said you enjoyed smelling
sheep dip, that wasn’t OPs, it was a phenol which the Health and Safety
Executive declared genotoxic in 1990."
He also knows, for example, that
there was a meeting in February 1991 between representatives of the Health and
Safety Executive, the Veterinary Medicine Directorate and the National
Organisation of Animal Health , the trade organisation for animal health
chemical manufacturers which has consistently argued its products are safe if
users follow the instructions.
Anderson says: "Elliot Morley, a senior
minister with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told
Annabelle Ewing, MP, that no minutes of that meeting could be found. They
certainly can. I have a copy, and they reveal a greater problem with phenols and
solvents as well as unsatisfactory guidance on protective clothing than people
were previously aware of."
He finds it difficult to blame farmers. His
recent settlement did not include a confidentiality clause, something he
interprets as an invitation to be free to criticise publicly the farmer who
allowed sheep dip to contaminate his water supply. He does not plan to do that.
"Even after 13 years of hell I sympathise with farmers who have been
affected by exposure to sheep dips. They didn’t know what they were dealing with
and proper instruction leaflets and guidance were either not given or unhelpful
until after many people had their lives ruined."
The poisoning, whatever
the specific cause in the dip, has affected almost every part of his body. That
includes pain receptors: "I can’t tolerate pain. I had toothache on Christmas
Day, spent it in misery, and I’m still recovering more than five weeks later -
as much from the cure, because the dentist wouldn’t take the tooth out without
giving me a local anaesthetic and that plays havoc with my system. It’s a
His aims have changed over the years. Legal claims for
compensation for OP or sheep dip poisoning have been almost impossible to push
through either by groups or individuals.
"I eventually realised there
was going to be no justice, only the law, and decided to get on with my life
even if much of it is in a wheelchair. I feel okay within myself, I’m a very
young 61 and I work as hard as I am able on the issues which affect me."
A veteran of police forces in Botswana and what used to be Northern
Rhodesia, he was once apprehended and interrogated by an officer from BOSS, the
South African Police special branch. He survived that and has survived being
"The rest of your life depends on how you respond to
adversity, to that one moment that changed your life for ever.
don’t even have a diagnosis and treatment centre for sufferers, only GPs who
don’t recognise the symptoms and have been known to shout at a patient ‘for
God’s sake, stop talking about sheep dip’."
He has now given up hope of
government or dip makers or what is now the Veterinary Products Committee
admitting that mistakes were made, even though phenols were removed from dips in
1993, without any notification to farmers.
"What I’m looking for is
government to set up a centre where people can get guidance and treatment. That
can’t be too much to ask."