THERE is a pressing need for greater awareness by government and doctors of the serious physical and mental health problems linked to exposure to organophosphate- based sheep dips.

That is the clear message from Paul Wright, 59, of Settle, who farmed for 30 years and who says serious health problems linked to use of sheep dips forced him to take early retirement, leaving him unemployable and reliant on benefits.

He is clear that he is not seeking compensation so has no financial interest in promoting awareness of the condition – but he feels strongly that there is an agenda to “hide” it.

Diagnosis of his own condition was only achieved after a long fight to get the necessary test that finally confirmed the presence of organophosphate in his system and for which he paid himself.

He farmed near Burnley for 30 years. A mixed farm with a couple of milk rounds, they milked 30 cows, had hens to supply eggs, a couple of pigs and 60 sheep, which later grew to 850.

Mr Wright was about 13 when he started helping to dip sheep. “They were big Lonks and you couldn’t help but get the dip all over you, including some in your mouth,” he said.

“Soon I started having health problems and kept having these ‘do’s’. At first they thought it was epilepsy. I had a number of tests, but nothing came of them and when I was about 17, I started having mental health problems for about three years.

“I got going again, then it was on and off, but I did a lot of things, including building my own house, standing for parliament and had some businesses, including my own pub and a skip business.”

In 1989, he had an eye problem and three years later became paralysed, spending months in Preston Hospital where they thought he had multiple sclerosis.

After getting going again, he gradually got worse until six years ago, his physical and mental problems – including periods of deep depression – meant he couldn’t work again.

Earlier, organophosphate had been raised but dismissed by a neurologist.

However, during a discussion about four years ago, Mr Wright realised he had ticked virtually all the boxes. He paid for a test for organophosphate in the body and samples of fat were taken from his back. “They came back not just positive, but full of it,” he said.

“Since then, everybody’s attitude towards me as far as organophosphates are concerned has changed completely.

It’s made a big difference as, although I know I won’t get better, I know what it is and it’s not just me going mad.”

He believes government must bear some responsibility for organophosphate sheep dip-related problems as dipping and the products used were compulsory.

However, he says, like smoking, at the time the full dangers of the dips were not realised.

Mr Wright said: “Some payment would be nice, but it is not about that, it is about awareness of the condition.

“There is help available, but you have to fight to get it – you should not be put off by people saying the condition does not exist. It should not have to be like this. I now have a really good doctor who is behind me on this.”

  • Heather Stevenson, SAC Dumfries-based vet, said Group 3 injectable wormers were the only real alternative to dipping sheep to control scab.

However, their use might also lead to problems of drug resistance in worm populations.

There was no question that conventional dips remained highly effective, not only against scab but other external parasites, but a diminishing number of farmers are still using them.

She said it was vital to take full precautions against contact with the dip, both during and after dipping.

A free comprehensive guide to current regulations and safety precautions for dipping sheep is published by HSE. It is at pubns/ais41.pdf.