The inspirational anti-pesticides campaigner, said of her recent High Court victory that, “The UK government’s relentless and extraordinary attempts to protect industry, as opposed to people’s health has been one of the most outrageous things to behold in the last seven years of my fight” (BBC News Online - 14/11/08).
Her fight for personal justice stemmed from the after-effects of farm pesticide exposure, which was reported to have caused blistering, flu type symptoms and other ill-effects. Her principal argument to the court was that residents who lived adjacent to farm land should receive information and warnings about the dangers of exposure to pesticides.
It is clear that the Judge, Mr Justice Collins saw logic from this argument and noted the allegation that the government fell short of its EU legal obligations. He considered that there was a disparity between the 1986 Control of Pesticides Regulations whereby beekeepers were required to be given 48 hours notice when pesticides were to be used; it appeared that humans did not enjoy the same benefit. He commented, “It is difficult to see why residents should be in a worse position”. Indeed!
He agreed with Ms Downs and, based upon the ‘solid evidence’ showing that she and others had suffered harm, he declared that the government must think again and create the conditions that provide sufficient information and warning to nearby residents of agricultural land.
During 2008 we continued to hear of fume events on board aircraft, many we suspect have gone unreported. Air passengers are blissfully unaware of the potential for serious injury following the exposure to fumes or smoke that may enter an aircraft cabin through an air bleed supply. November's (2008) RoSPA Occupational Safety & Health Journal, highlights the plight of crew and passengers who have been subject to exposure and serious illness.
The article’s author, Nick Scott, considered that the main route to protect health could be through the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (CoSHH) which is not only designed to protect employees but also to ‘others who may be affected’.
There is currently a sophisticated and determined response to the crew and consumers call for protection and action.
The government has ordered a study (which is already criticised for being flawed) by the Cranfield University and the Committee on Toxicity (COT). Leaving to one side the apparent lack of legal progress in these cases over many years, there is a need to acknowledge the sheer courage and determination of Georgina Downs and establish a clear route to the Consumer’s right to know of a danger and of a government’s obligation to act.
Of particular note is the concern expressed in recent years of the so-called secret blacklist of airlines within EU airspace.
Eventually the secret list became public through the EU Directive 2111/2005.
The enactment of this legislation provides the important right of a consumer to know of safety deficits in the air transport they use.
In preamble 9 it states that information on the safety of airlines should be published.
Preamble 10 provides that, “it is important that consumers receive the necessary information to be able to make informed choices”.
Preamble 15 importantly states that, “Air carriers should pursue a policy of transparency vis a vis passengers regarding safety information. Publishing such information should contribute to passenger awareness of the reliability of air carriers in safety terms”.
The power to go beyond a National impasse on any safety related issue is dealt with under preamble 20 where it states that, “Where there is a risk to safety that has not been adequately resolved by the Member State(s) concerned, the Commission should have the possibility of adopting immediate measures on a provisional basis”.
The Directive then fails to promote the preamble adequately but helpfully sets out the criteria within its annex when the Commission may be forced to act.
This would be when:
There is serious evidence of safety deficiencies by an air carrier,
Lack of ability or willingness on the part of an air carrier to address the safety issues,
Lack of ability or willingness of the authorities to deal with the safety deficiencies of an air carrier.
Insufficient ability of the Authorities to ensure that the aircraft is operated according to the Chicago Convention.
Information to passengers is only defined in terms of the identity of the name of the aircraft operator and how their rights under 261/2004 is affected! How the airlines and the Travel Industry must have jumped for joy with that specific exclusion!
We wonder at what depth did the EU Commission drill down for Consumer opinion on this important issue?
We consider that the need for an open dialogue, a recognition of the important evidence cited within The Aviation Contamination Air Reference Manual, the lack of suitable and convincing action by government is sufficient evidence for the EU Commission to act under 2111/2005.
The brave action of Georgina Downs should spur on Campaigners, Consumers and Solicitors alike!
This article first appeared in the January 2009 edition of 'Get'Away - Your Route to Travel Rights'
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