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Agent Orange Series

3 INDEPTH ARTICLES:

  • Agent Orange and Agent Purple,
    August 31, 2006
  • Agent Orange: Grim Legacy,
    June 14, 2005
  • Deadly Defoliants,
    June 14, 2005

 

CBC InDepthINDEPTH: AGENT ORANGE

Agent Orange and Agent Purple
CBC News Online | Updated Aug. 11, 2006

soldier spraying In the palette of deadly poisons, one of the most famous is Agent Orange, a defoliant best known for its use during the war in Vietnam. Others are known by the names Green, Blue and Pink.

Far from Southeast Asia, dense forest was also a problem at CFB Gagetown. Military commanders said they needed to clear the brush in order to conduct training exercises. So the military struck an agreement with the Americans to test the defoliants.

Ottawa has acknowledged that Agent Orange defoliant was used in the 1960s to clear training areas at CFB Gagetown, but the government has only acknowledged the harm caused by Agent Orange when it was sprayed on Gagetown in 1966 and 1967.

CBC News learned Agent Orange wasn't the only herbicide sprayed at the base. There was also Agent Purple, lesser known, but more toxic.

Wayne Cardinal
Wayne Cardinal

In 2005, Wayne Cardinal took 14 different medications every day for his heart and respiratory ailments. The 61-year-old retired soldier was wondering if he and his fellow soldiers were sick from Agent Orange.

"I can remember guys coming in with ears all blistered up and being sent to the MIR and told, 'There's nothing wrong with you, quiet about this, this is just probably a reaction to the chemical. It won't harm you.' And many guys can relate stories like that," Cardinal says.

Experts like cancer and leukemia specialist Richard van de Jagt of the University of Ottawa have long made a connection between Agent Orange and many health problems.

Richard Van de Jagt
Richard van de Jagt

"Cancers including leukemia, prostate cancer, lung cancer, et cetera, and then we also know it to have endocrine effects and causing blindness, cataract formation," van de Jagt says.

Extensive spraying

CBC News learned that the spraying at CFB Gagetown was more extensive than previously thought. Documents obtained by CBC News show that in the summer of 1966 the military used Agent Purple.

Agent Purple had more than three times the level of lethal dioxin as Agent Orange. It was also laced with arsenic. It was so bad that the Americans stopped using it in Vietnam the year before.

The CBC investigation showed that planes sprayed other herbicides containing dioxin from 1956 to 1967, herbicides that were later banned for their health effects.

A military briefing note to the New Brunswick cabinet obtained by CBC News showed that more than a thousand barrels of a now-banned herbicide was sprayed on CFB Gagetown.

map gagetown It listed in part: "Overview of herbicides spray program. 1956: 3,687 acres, 2,4,-D and 2,4,5-T1957: 3,879 acres."

Then they were legal, now some of them have since been banned. 2,4,5,-T was sprayed frequently to kill dense brush. The New Brunswick documents also showed that substances mistakenly blew onto nearby farms.

In 1964 there was a spray application accident. Increased winds carried the spray to the Upper Gagetown and Sheffield area. The Crown paid approximately $250,000 to several market gardens in the area as reparation for the damage to their crops.

Decades later, many residents are wondering if their illnesses are linked to the spraying at Gagetown.

Strenuous efforts

On June 13, 2005, in the House of Commons, then defence minister Bill Graham was asked about Agent Purple and replied: "We are making strenuous efforts to obtain the appropriate records, work with those who have been exposed, work with anybody in the community who knows anything about this."

Spraying in Vietnam
Spraying in Vietnam

CBC News also obtained a draft fact sheet from the Department of National Defence. It says the department does not have a list of people who served at CFB Gagetown who may have been exposed, and it says the number who may have come into contact with the chemical is thought to be minimal.

"What upsets me so much is that my government, who I faithfully served for 40 years, has covered this up and lied about it for 40 years. What a shame. What a shame for the troops who have served them so well," Cardinal says.

Van de Jagt says like Agent Orange, the chemical 2,4,5,-T, can cause cancer: "Agent Orange and 2,4,5,-T have been banned because of their known toxic effects and they've actually been off. They've been banned for many years."

Civilian exposure

After planes took off from the Gagetown airstrip, nearby communities had no idea what chemicals were being sprayed. People say they were kept in the dark and they doubt the chemicals that were sprayed stayed put.

Ken Dobbie
Ken Dobbie

Ken Dobbie has been sick for more than 30 years. It began with liver problems when he was a young man. The 58-year-old has been sick for more than 30 years. He never understood why until a few years ago.

It escalated to cirrhosis, pancreatitis, diabetes and brain atrophy. "I have type II diabetes; I have micro nodular sclerosis of the liver; idiopathic chronic pancreatitis; I'm in constant pain;" Dobbie says. "One of the questionnaires I remember had said, 'Have you ever worked with a chemical in your past?' That's when it hit me."

Dobbie remembered a summer job on the military base near his home in Oromocto, N.B. He was hired to clear brush that had been sprayed with a herbicide. That summer, 1966, the Canadian military sprayed Agent Orange at Gagetown.

Dobbie worked that summer with other local teenagers clearing and burning the contaminated brush. He says they had no protective gear.

"I know that I was there with several hundred other kids, I know what I did. It was an incredible experience because we were outdoors in the summertime working, and to us, it was a great job, but we didn't know that it was going to be killing us in the years later," Dobbie says. "There's no other reason on this Earth why I would be having about 15 different diseases and ailments that are going to eventually turn into cancer."

His family doctor says his symptoms likely point to some kind of chemical exposure. Dr. Robert West says: "He doesn't have a history of drug use or alcoholism, and it was a relatively acute illness with some changes in liver function on the blood, so that would suggest an immediate exposure to something."

Someone should be held accountable

Jody Carr is the MLA representing Oromocto and Gagetown. He says there are many civilians like Dobbie who should be compensated.

"I think the federal minister has the obligation to extend that compensation to firstly, any civilian that worked at base Gagetown at the time of spraying of Agent Orange. If any of those civilians have an illness as a result of that, they should be compensated as well as the veterans," Carr says.

In 2004, Dobbie was hospitalized six times. He tests for liver cancer every three months. Along with cirrhosis, he has pancreatitis, diabetes and atrophy of the frontal lobes of his brain.

In 2005, Dobbie called the Defence Department in Ottawa to tell them about his job and see if they had any records. They said they would look into it.

Documents obtained by CBC News suggest the department believes no civilians were exposed to Agent Orange on the base. A draft fact sheet says there is no indication there were any civilians involved in or exposed to the testing.

Carr says he has heard from lots of civilians who say they've been affected by the spraying. He says they, too, should be compensated.

"To try to determine how many civilians, a particular number, it's very difficult, but the fact is that regardless of the costs, the federal government has the moral and ethical responsibility," Carr says.

But for people like Dobbie it's a tremendous challenge to try to prove his illnesses were caused by the spraying. Years afterwards, doctors are often unable to confirm exposure.

Ken Dobbie w doctor Dobbie may not have the time to prove it.

"I guess the way I can sum it up is it's too soon. I don't deserve to be dying at 57. I don't deserve this and no one who worked there deserves any kind of illnesses they have," Dobbie says.

Dobbie is now the president of the Agent Orange Association of Canada, an advocacy group for those affected by the dioxins sprayed. So far, five Gagetown veterans have been awarded military disability pensions because of dioxin-related illnesses.

Persistent dioxins

A Canadian expert on Agent Orange says it's likely there is still dioxin in the soil at Gagetown.

Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk is an environmental consultant who spent several years testing dioxin levels in the countryside of Vietnam. He's an expert on the rainbow of toxic chemicals used by the U.S. military to kill jungle leaves so they could better see their enemy.

He says soil tests in that country show Agent Purple contained about four times the level of dioxin found in Agent Orange. And he says dioxin is likely still sitting in the soil at Gagetown.

"If you went back to the areas today where Agent Purple was sprayed and undertook some sampling, there's a high probability that you will find some dioxin, given the analytical techniques of today," Dwernychuk says.

That means dioxin may still be leeching into the water system ... and eventually into people's bodies.

"Through the process of biomagnification," he says, "it could eventually end up in humans and develop some form of high levels in livers and fatty tissues."

Dwernychuk also says the spraying of the chemical 2,4,5,-T throughout the 1950s and '60s undoubtedly drove up dioxin levels.

It's a key ingredient found in both Agent Orange and Agent Purple. It was banned in Canada in 1985.

The CBC's government documents refer to environmental assessments at Gagetown in the mid-1980s.

They show no evidence of dioxin.

But Dwernychuk says new studies are needed because dramatic changes in technology have improved the detection of toxins.

The federal government reaction

Gagetown today At the time of the Agent Orange testing, the Canadian government said very little about it, even denying the chemical was harmful at one point.

But in May 2005, Veterans Affairs acknowledged that the testing at CFB Gagetown exposed Canadian soldiers to a health risk. Then defence minister Bill Graham said those who believe they were affected can come forward and apply for assistance.

Graham has said he wants to hear from any veterans who may have been exposed to chemicals here, but the government did not promise any money to study health problems on the base or in the surrounding communities, nor has it promised to compensate any civilians.

On June 14, 2005, then Veterans Affairs Minister Albina Guarnieri said a committee will review disability applications. CBC News has learned 22 of those applications were previously denied.

The federal government eventually changed its stance. In August 2005, Ottawa launched an investigation into the use of Agent Orange and Agent Purple in the 1960s at CFB Gagetown. Investigators met with active and retired members of the Canadian military and retired civilian employees who were there during the tests.

And on Aug. 10, 2006, the results were in: present-day levels of dioxin are too low to be of any concern. The independent researchers hired by the government found that spraying in remote areas of the base in 1966 and 1967 did not pose a threat to the long-term health of those involved in the program. These were the first two of several reports examining health impacts of defoliant use at CFB Gagetown.

However, retired soldier Grant Payne said this contradicted earlier reports that showed current levels of dioxin were higher than the national guidelines in some areas. And, a scientific peer review raised concerns about the small number of soil samples and water samples.

Despite the findings, that same day the Conservative government announced it would still compensate those exposed to Agent Orange. But, it acknowledged the new reports meant fewer people were eligible. Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson said it would make a final decision on the compensation program by early 2007.

Sources: CBC News Online stories, and the National and CBC Radio World Report, June 13 and 14, 2005. Reporter: Louise Elliott.

CBC InDepthINDEPTH: AGENT ORANGE

Agent Orange: Grim Legacy
CBC News Online | June 14, 2005

From the National, April 23, 2000
Reporter: Ian Hanomansing | Producer: Eric Rankin

chopper spraying AO
The defoliant was sprayed
over large areas of forest

In Vietnam in 1975, South Vietnam fell to the communists, ending a divisive conflict for the United States. And while the war is long over, the consequences are not; especially the "Grim Legacy" of Agent Orange. The Vietnamese insist the chemical defoliant used by the American military is still causing birth defects and deadly illnesses. The U.S. compensates its own veterans for the effects of Agent Orange, but it has so far refused to help the Vietnamese people. In the spring of 2000, the CBC's Ian Hanomansing travelled to Vietnam for a firsthand look at the problem and the efforts of a Canadian scientific team to find some answers.

Along a narrow trail lined by rice paddies and simple homes, Dr. Troung Cong Binh is taking us and a group of medical students on a house call. But there's no sense of urgency to this visit, no hope of curing his patient; just sadness and frustration about the plight of the family that lives here. This boy, Phan Tuan Anh, looks 10, but he's 16-years-old and he's dying. It is a cruel death, his muscles wasting away. Crueller still, because his parents have already watched one son die of the mysterious disease. And another, a 14-year-old, has begun suffering the same symptoms.

"The parents know the progression of the disease. The younger one will get worse, like his brother, " Dr. Binh says.

Their mother says she has no idea why three of her eight children have been stricken with the illness. But Dr. Binh says he has little doubt the culprit is Agent Orange.

"I think that Agent Orange is one of the main causes. These diseases are the effects of the Agent Orange because the rate of disease is very high. We find some families have a large number of members who have got the same disease," Dr. Binh says.

Agent Orange got its name from the orange bands on its drums. It was a potent blend of two herbicides and was sprayed around U.S. military bases in Vietnam to keep perimeters clear. But that was just a small part of its use. For 10 years beginning in 1961, the U.S. Forces drenched Vietnam with the defoliant, using more than 12 million gallons to strip the enemy of its cover and its food, including rice. The problem is that the U.S. government didn't realize until the late 1960's that the compound could be lethal to more than just vegetation. It was contaminated by dioxin -- the most toxic chemical made by man.

So today there are those who say because of Agent Orange, the Vietnam war is still claiming victims. The Vietnamese government has made sure its citizens are well-versed in the evils of Agent Orange. A display at a museum in Ho Chi Minh City leaves no doubt that the U.S. spray has caused deformities and deaths.

A TV documentary, never before seen outside of Vietnam, hammers home that message with graphic pictures of what the government says are victims of spraying. Is this science or propaganda? To what extent might these cases be the result of extreme malnutrition and chronic disease in parts of Vietnam?

Dr. Nuygen Thi Ngoc Phuong is head of Ho Chi Minh city's biggest maternity hospital. She has been here for more than 30 years and has studied the impact of Agent Orange. She is certain it's still causing birth defects. She says more than two-thirds of the patients are affected by Agent Orange.

Dr. Phuong says statistics show an unmistakable pattern: the rate of child deformities among mothers who were exposed to Agent Orange is much higher than among mothers living close by who were not exposed to the defoliant.

"There is a linkage between dioxin exposure and birth defects � the increased rate of birth defects in my hospital in South Vietnam," she says.

No one questions that dioxin can be deadly, and that there is an alarming number of birth defects in this region. The problem, until now though, has been a lack of independently verifiable scientific evidence. That is, until a team of Canadian scientists and doctors entered the picture.

In an office in West Vancouver, scientists from a private research company, Hatfield Consultants, discuss their next trip to Vietnam.

One area that they have studied extensively, near the Ho Chi Minh Trail in west-central Viet Nam, is the remote Aluoi Valley. Funded by various Canadian government agencies, the scientists analyze the soil, sources of food, including fish in local ponds, as well as blood and breast milk from people who live in the valley.

In a report released in April 2000, they've found that dioxin contamination from Agent Orange is not just an historical fact, but a continuing problem. It's in the food chain and showing up in people born long after the spraying ended. The Canadian scientists have also confirmed dioxin levels from Agent Orange in this area, the site of a former U.S. military base, are far above what's considered safe in Canada and that the 20 families who live here should be relocated. But on what many consider to be the key question: is dioxin contamination the cause of the high rate of birth defects in Vietnam, the study provides no answer.

David Levy has been involved in the project since the beginning six years ago.

"There are higher percentages of birth defects in people living in close proximity to the contaminated site," Levy says. "What we don't know at the present time is to what extent other factors could be contributing to this. The maternal nutrition has a very big influence on the subsequent health of the baby that's born. These people are extremely poor, their nutrition is -- is not very good. And so we need to rule out some of these alternative explanations for the high birth defects."

In Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, officials have been following the Hadfield study closely. We brought a summary of the report here and showed it to Dr. Le Cao Dai, Vietnam's top expert on Agent Orange.

Dr. Dai says he's confident that the Canadians will eventually conclude there is a link between birth defects and Agent Orange. But he says in the meantime, Vietnam needs help urgently.

"The first priority is to clean up the area. And continue to look at other problems. For example, malformation and so on," Dai says.

So the Americans should be paying for the cleanup?

"I do believe that the American government should do something," Dai says.

In fact the U.S. government is doing something, but for its own vets, not the Vietnamese -- providing compensation for some illnesses and one birth defect which may be related to Agent Orange. Washington says while there isn't conclusive data on the impact of exposure in Vietnam to the defoliant, dioxins are known to cause certain diseases, including: lung and throat cancer, lymphoma and prostate cancer, as well as the birth defect spina bifida in children of people exposed; these are some of the same maladies the Vietnamese have identified. So does that U.S. policy create at least a moral obligation on the country to help the Vietnamese, some of whom were allies during the war?

A State Department spokesman would only provide us with this statement: "the U.S. Government believes the Agent Orange issue should be addressed on a scientific basis and has told the Vietnamese government that we are prepared to conduct joint research in Vietnam on the effects of dioxins in Agent Orange and other herbicides and are awaiting a response to the offer."

Back in the countryside, the debate over Agent Orange matters little to the Phan family as they watch another son slowly die.

To the Vietnamese at least, he will be the latest casualty in a war that ended years ago.

CBC InDepthINDEPTH: AGENT ORANGE

Deadly defoliants
CBC News Online | June 14, 2005

The chemical colours

AO drums The names for the chemical defoliants come from the Vietnam War where the name signified the identifying bands that were used on the 55-gallon drums that contained the products. Herbicides used in Vietnam, as well as the best-known Agent Orange, were Agent White, Agent Blue, Agent Purple, Agent Pink and Agent Green.

What are the ingredients?

2,4,-D is a white crystalline irritant compound used as a defoliant and weed killer called also 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid; (Chemical formula C8H6Cl2O3).
2,4,5,-T an irritant compound used especially as an herbicide and defoliant called also trichlorophenoxyacetic acid. (Chemical formula C8H5Cl3O3).
Picloram is a defoliant and systemic herbicide designed to break down very slowly in the soil (Chemical formula C6H3Cl3N2O2).

PURPLE: A formulation of 2,4,-D and 2,4,5,-T.
GREEN: Used 2,4,5-T.
PINK: Used 2,4,5-T.
ORANGE: A formulation of 2,4,-D and 2,4,5-T.
WHITE: A formulation of Picloram and 2,4,-D.
BLUE: Contained cacodylic acid.
ORANGE II: A formulation of 2,4,-D and 2,4,5-T used in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969 (also sometimes referred to as "Super Orange").
DINOXOL: A formulation of 2,4,-D and 2,4,5-T. Small quantities were tested in Vietnam between 1962 and 1964.
TRINOXOL: Contained 2,4,5-T. Small quantities tested in Vietnam 1962-1964.

Where were the herbicides used?

U.S. veterans groups have compiled lists of areas where they believe the U.S. and allied military forces used chemical herbicides and defoliants. Some of the information has come from the U.S. Department of Defence and some of it from the veterans' own research.

Areas confirmed by the U.S. Department of Defence, in which defoliants were used (in addition to Vietnam): The Korean demilitarized zone in 1968 and 1969 (extensive spraying). Fort Drum, N.Y. in 1959 (testing).

Areas U.S. veterans say were sprayed:
1. Guam from 1955 through 1960s (spraying).
2. Johnston Atoll (1970s was used for AO storage).
3. Panama Canal Zone from 1960s to early 1970s (spraying).
4. Elgin AFB (Agents Orange and Blue) on firing range and simulated Viet Cong Village.
5. Wright-Patterson AFB (Ohio) and Kelly AFB (Texas).

In May 2003, a Democratic congressman, Lane Evans, asked U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to investigate possible spraying in:

Aberdeen Proving Ground, Aberdeen, Md.
Apalachicola National Forest, Sophoppy, Fla.
Avon Air Force Base, Fla.
Beaumont, Texas
Brawley, Calif.
Bushnell Army Air Field, Fla.
Camp Detrick, Md.
Dar and Prek Clong, Cambodia
Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
Fort Gordon, Ga.
Fort Richie, Md.
Fredericton, N.B.
Guanica, and Joyuda, Puerto Rico
Gulfport, Miss.
Huntington County State College, Pa.
Jacksonville, Fla.
Kauai, Hawaii
Kingston, R.I.
Kompong Cham province, Cambodia
Laos
Las Marias, Puerto Rico
Las Mesas Cerros and La Jugua, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
Loquillo, Puerto Rico
Mauna Loa, Hilo, Hawaii
Pinal Mountains, Globe, Ariz.
Pranburi and other locations in Thailand
Prosser, Wash.
Rio Grande, Puerto Rico
Wayside and Wilcox, Miss.
Operation PACER HO (Disposal at sea)

What are the effects of chemical defoliants?

Joel Michaelek DoD
Dr. Joel Michalek during a press briefing on the Ranch Hand Study in the Pentagon on March 29, 2000. Michalek is the U.S. Air Force health study senior investigator for the study. (Courtesy: U.S. Dept. of Defense/Helene C. Stikkel)

On March 29, 2000, the United States Department of Defence released the results of a study by the U.S. air force called the Ranch Hand Study. That study was named for the original Agent Orange spraying program, also called Operation Ranch Hand.

In 1982, the U.S. air force began studying Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. In 1997, the U.S. air force conducted physical examinations of 2,300 Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

The executive summary of the study said that the result showed "the strongest evidence to date that herbicide exposure is associated with diabetes, and some of its known complications." But the study said there was "no consistent evidence that Agent Orange is related to cancer."

The 2000 results confirmed an earlier 1992 study that also showed that Agent Orange is associated with adult-onset diabetes. "The 1997 results suggest that as dioxin levels increase, not only are the presence and severity of adult-onset diabetes increased, but the time to onset of disease is also decreased. A 47 per cent increase in diabetes was seen in those with the highest levels of dioxin. This is particularly strong evidence, since dioxin is the component of Agent Orange linked to many health effects in laboratory animals," the air force said.

The study said that "cardiovascular disease findings were mixed."

The Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, studied in 1997, showed an overall 26 per cent increase in heart disease, but the air force study added "disease risk was not increased in Ranch Hands with high dioxin levels. However, within the Ranch Hand group, two specific measures of heart disease, the presence of high blood pressure and the percentage of veterans with evidence of prior heart attacks indicated by electrocardiogram, did tend to increase with dioxin levels."

The study said the relationship between diabetes and cardiovascular disease was statistical and noted that "the biological processes relating herbicide exposure with diabetes or cardiovascular disease have not been described" by scientists or doctors.

As for cancer, the air force doctors said in their report: "At the end of 15 years of follow-up, the Ranch Hand Study has found no consistent evidence that dioxin exposure is related to cancer." While overall, the veterans exposed to Agent Orange had a six per cent increase in the risk of cancer compared to other Vietnam veterans, the study also found that "enlisted ground crew, the subgroup with the highest dioxin levels and presumably the greatest herbicide exposure, exhibited a 22 per cent decreased risk of cancer." The study also found that veterans exposed to Agent Orange showed "a loss of sensation in the feet, which increased with dioxin levels."

Blood tests regarding liver function and lipids were slightly elevated, and did tend to increase with dioxin level of the patient.

However, these tests may be elevated for many reasons, are not a disease by themselves, and cannot be explained entirely by any other finding in the study.

There were two limitations to the study. Groups such as Americans veterans or Vietnamese civilians were exposed in different ways and to different levels of herbicide, so the study could not show what effect herbicides or dioxin could have at levels for people outside the Ranch Hand Study group, or from other sources such as contaminated food. It warned that groups with higher exposures may well have effects not seen in the study. The relatively small size of the study made it difficult to detect increases in rare diseases, so small increases of these diseases could have been missed.

 

Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign | info@vn-agentorange.org | P.O. Box 303, Prince Street, New York, NY 10012-0006