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cnewsJune 21, 2007

Agent Orange report minimizes health risk at N.B. base



OROMOCTO, N.B. (CP) - The latest report on the use of Agent Orange and other herbicides at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick says there is almost no risk to human health from the contentious spray programs.

Cantox Environmental of Ontario, the company hired by the federal government to look into the Agent Orange controversy, said Thursday the vast majority of people who live and work near the sprawling base don't have to worry about long-term health effects from active ingredients in the herbicide sprays.

The company said potential, long-term health risks were identified only for individuals directly involved with applying some of the defoliants, or clearing treated brush soon after applications.

The findings are in line with earlier reports on the risks to human health, which found that only those closely involved in the preparation and application of the herbicides should be concerned about possible health problems.

"The science right now is basically telling us there is a negligible risk, somewhat augmented for those who handled it, managed it and manipulated it in a direct way - but still minimal, if not immeasurable," said Dr. Dennis Furlong, head of Ottawa's fact-finding mission on the Gagetown spray programs.

"The overall scenario is that people in the area are safe."

The latest findings will help guide the federal government, which is considering compensation for people who say their health has suffered because they were exposed to the defoliants.

The people leading the charge for compensation are not impressed with the latest scientific findings.

"It's part and parcel of a political public relations campaign," said Art Connolly, head of the Agent Orange Association of Canada.

"They're narrowing it right down to, 'Unless you were swimming in the stuff, there's no chance you could have been hurt."'

Over several days in 1966 and 1967, the U.S. military worked at Gagetown testing a number of defoliating agents, including agents orange, white and purple.

The chemicals were widely applied during the Vietnam War to clear jungles and have since been linked to a number of health problems, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia, soft-tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and chloracne.

In addition to the military tests, a variety of commercially available herbicides have been used to clear foliage at the heavily forested base since it opened in the 1950s.

Many veterans and people living near Gagetown say they believe the years of spraying have had a harmful effect on human health.

Cantox confirmed that most of the herbicides used at CFB Gagetown continue to be used in Canada, though the company stressed that the early formulations contained ingredients like dioxin that are now banned in Canada.

Meanwhile, some military veterans are becoming impatient with the federal Conservative government's protracted process for awarding compensation.

Wayne Cardinal, a veteran who served at CFB Gagetown for many years, said Ottawa has enough evidence from the people who say they were affected by the sprays to make a decision.

"There has been nothing favourable out of that team of scientists since this whole thing started," he said. "We didn't expect anything overly favourable to come out of it. They are hired by the government, so we don't expect shocking evidence in our favour. However, we know better. We were there, they weren't."

Furlong expects the fact-finding mission to produce its most critical report by mid-summer - an epidemiological study of the overall health of people in the Gagetown area.

Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson has said that $20,000 to $25,000 is the normal range for compensation payments.

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