(Beyond Pesticides, June 23, 2015) After years of denial and obstruction, Air Force and Air Force Reserve veterans now have the chance to receive compensation for their exposure to the highly toxic herbicide Agent Orange on contaminated aircraft used after the Vietnam War. Affected veteran’s health issues stem from their time spent on UC-123 transport planes, which during the war were outfitted with spray equipment in the American military’s attempt to eliminate forest cover for Vietcong fighters. After the war, these aircraft were returned to use in the United States for basic transport operations such as cargo shipping and medical evacuation missions. However, these planes never underwent any form of decontamination or testing before being repurposed.
Though the Agent Orange Act of 1991 stipulated medical care and disability coverage for sick veterans who served in the Vietnam War and were exposed to Agent Orange, those who flew in contaminated post-war planes were deemed ineligible. Prior to this recent announcement from the Department of Veteran’s affairs, government officials asserted that the “dried residues” of Agent Orange were not likely to pose a health threat to aircraft crew. However, a study published by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine in 2014, titled Post-Vietnam military herbicide exposures in UC-123 Agent Orange spray aircraft, showed otherwise. Scientists found evidence that those who worked on C-123 aircraft were likely exposed to dioxin, a contaminant introduced during the manufacture of Agent Orange, and a highly potent carcinogen. The report dismissed Veteran’s Affairs “dried residue” concept as “not consistent with widely accepted theories of fugacity and basic thermodynamics of the behavior of surface residues.” Further it found that, “Aircraft occupants would have been exposed to airborne dioxin-contaminated dust as well as come into direct skin contact, and our models show that the level of exposure is likely to have exceeded several available exposure guidelines.”
According to the Washington Post, between 1,500 and 2,100 Air Force and Air Force Reserve personnel who worked, slept, and ate on the planes and may have health issues related to dioxin exposure are now eligible for financial compensation for their disability claims. “Opening up eligibility for this deserving group of Air Force veterans and reservists is the right thing to do,” said Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. “We thank the IOM [Institute of Medicine] for its thorough review that provided the supporting evidence needed to ensure we can now fully compensate any former crew member who develops an Agent Orange-related disability.”
Past studies have found that U.S. war veterans exposed to Agent Orange developed chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes. Many children of exposed veterans have been affected by their parents’ exposure to the chemical and show a wide range of symptoms.
Agent Orange was given its name because it was stored in orange striped drums and contained the active ingredients 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. This formulation was contaminated with the highly toxic 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (also called TCDD or simply dioxin) and is now banned. However, 2,4-D is still one of the most widely used herbicides on lawns, school grounds and parks today. It has been linked to cancer, liver damage and endocrine disruption in humans in addition to being toxic to wildlife, pets and beneficial insects. Moreover, previous research from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did detect dioxin contamination in a number of 2,4-D herbicide products.
The possibility of continuing contamination of 2,4-D herbicides with dioxin is particularly concerning as EPA and USDA recently gave the green light for Dow Chemical to grow crops genetically engineered to withstand repeated applications of 2,4-D. The approval of this toxic system was granted in response to widespread weed resistance to glyphosate-tolerant GE crops. And as with glyphosate-resistant crops, a massive increase in 2,4-D use can be expected to occur as a result of this approval. A coalition of conservation, food safety, and public health groups including Beyond Pesticides continue to challenge this decision in the courts.
For more information about the legacy of Agent Orange, see previous Daily News stories on the issue, or view the Pesticide Induced Diseases Database. For more information about why we should take a precautionary approach to GE agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides’ GE webpage.
Source: Washington Post
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.