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Board: Agent Orange likely was used in Okinawa

Manilla..The U.S. Board of Veterans Appeals found in 1998 that the hazardous chemical defoliant Agent Orange was most likely used in Okinawa, and ruled in favor of a former U.S. service member who sought compensation for prostate cancer he blamed on his work there in the early 1960s, according to a board ruling uncovered by Kyodo News.

The discovery comes as the Defense Department has still to confirm whether Agent Orange was stored or used in Okinawa during the Vietnam War that ended in 1975.

In its ruling, issued on Jan. 13, 1998, the board concluded that credible evidence sustains a reasonable probability that the veteran was exposed to dioxins while serving in Okinawa.

The board further said it was granting him service-connected disability compensation for prostrate cancer as being the result of Agent Orange exposure while in Okinawa between 1960 and 1961.

It found entirely believable his testimony about the U.S. militarys mixing, storage and even use of Agent Orange in Okinawa at a time when Japans southernmost prefecture was still under the control of the United States, which used it as a strategic transport hub during the Vietnam War.

Agent Orange, a herbicide mixture containing the highly toxic substance dioxin, was sprayed by U.S. military aircraft over the southern portion of Vietnam from 1961 to 1971 to clear jungles and deny cover to communist fighters.

It has since been blamed for numerous health problems, including various types of cancer and birth defects.

The former service member, who worked as a motor transport operator on Okinawa Island but had never been to Vietnam, said in his testimony that while Agent Orange was mainly used to defoliate trees and shrubbery in lush war zones like Vietnam, in Okinawa, we had other uses for it, particularly near base camp perimeters.

He said herbicides thought to include Agent Orange were sprayed from trucks or backpacks along roadsides, used for landscaping and also taken to the densely forested northern part of Okinawa Island to clear foliage to facilitate war game maneuvers there.

Subtropical Okinawas heavy rainfall, he said, created a demand for non-water-soluble defoliants such as Agent Orange that would not just wash away with the next rain. The thing that bothers me the most is that we were not told or warned about the hazards of the herbicides that we were handling, nor were we issued any protective clothing, he testified.

As recently as November 2004, the Defense Department stated that it has been unable to find any records of Agent Orange being used or stored on Okinawa Island during the Vietnam War era.

The statement came in response to queries made in July 2004 by then U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, a ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs, who wrote to then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld requesting any information on the use or storage of Agent Orange on Okinawa.

I am particularly interested in ascertaining when and where Agent Orange and similar herbicides were stored on Okinawa and whether or not there was any usage of herbicides or reports of spillage from drum corrosion or any other event which potentially involved exposure of service members to these herbicides, he wrote, according to a copy of the letter.

That was replied to by Gen. Richard Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told Evans in November 2004 that records contain no information linking use or storage of Agent Orange or other herbicides in Okinawa.

Myers further said there was no record of any spills, accidental or otherwise, of Agent Orange. Therefore, there are no recorded occupational exposures of service members in Okinawa to Agent Orange or similar herbicides.

The Board of Veterans Appeals ruling said that while the U.S military had been generally unable to document the use of herbicides in Okinawa, experts who attempted to verify specific dioxin exposure there do not negate that possibility.

The former service member, it said, was indeed where he said he was, at a time when military build-up from a support standpoint was considerable, doing a job which was entirely consistent with the mixing and other transport of herbicides, and at a time when these were both used and warnings not necessarily given, as he stated, since the hazards were not fully understood.

Hundreds more former U.S. service members who were stationed in Okinawa during the Vietnam War have lodged medical compensation claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, citing Agent Orange exposure, according to information viewable online in the archives of the Board of Veterans Appeals.

But most cases have either been denied or sent for review on the grounds of insufficient evidence linking their illnesses to Agent Orange exposure.

The various documents surface at a time when Washington and Tokyo are realigning the U.S. military presence in Japan following years of protests from Okinawans who have long complained about crime, noise and crowding associated with U.S. bases on the island since the end of World War II in 1945.

U.S. bases occupy about 20 percent of Okinawas land area and have also been viewed as being a large part of the islands environmental problems.

In 1969, a leak of the deadly nerve agent VX on Okinawa injured 23 U.S. service members and one American civilian, sparking a furor among Japanese as the chemical weapons had been kept secret from Japan. They were subsequently removed.

Under the realignment, about 4,000 hectares of the 7,800-hectare U.S. jungle warfare training area in northern Okinawa, mentioned as a place where Agent Orange was sprayed, are due to be handed back to Japan.

Kunitoshi Sakurai, president of Okinawa University who specializes in environmental engineering, expressed concern over the possibility of residual dioxin there, pointing out that the northern area is the source of most of Okinawas water supply.

Dioxin, Sakurai noted, does not dissolve in nature and would still be present even more than 40 years after use of Agent Orange.

The Okinawa government does not know whether Agent Orange was used in the base, he said, lamenting, Its difficult to know what is going on inside a military base.


This article is from the Global Pesticide Campaigner (Volume 09, Number 2), August 1999.

More about the Global Pesticide Campaigner.
News Note: Agent Orange in Panama.

The Dallas Morning News recently reported that the U.S. military conducted secret tests of Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides in Panama in the 1960s and '70s, potentially exposing civilians and soldiers to highly dangerous chemicals. According to eyewitness accounts and documents, hundreds of barrels of Agent Orange were shipped to Panama during the Vietnam War to be tested in simulated tropical battlefield conditions of Southeast Asia. The chemical was a mixture of the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and also contained dioxin generated during formulation of 2,4,5-T. While the two herbicides break down in the environment rather quickly, dioxin is a highly persistent compound that remains in the environment for decades and can cause cancer, birth defects and other health and developmental problems.

The U.S. Southern Command, the operational authority in Panama, said it was not aware of any tests using Agent Orange that had taken place there. However, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department acknowledged that use of Agent Orange or similar herbicides contributed to the deaths of at least three U.S. servicemen stationed in Panama in the 1960s and '70s. In testimony at a Veterans Affairs hearing regarding one of these cases, a former operations officer for herbicide research at the Army biological research and development laboratories in Maryland stated that "several hundred drums" of Agent Orange were shipped to Panama in the late 1960s.

For years, the Panamanian government has been trying to find proof that the U.S. used chemical weapons and herbicides there in an effort to obtain compensation for cleanup costs as well as possible damages. Panama is already seeking as much as US$500 million from the U.S. military in damages and cleanup costs related to thousands of acres used for weapons tests since World War II.

Sources: "Report: U.S. Exposed Many in Panama to Agent Orange," San Francisco Examiner, August 20, 1999. "Report: Agent Orange in Panama," Associated Press, August 20, 1999.

Agent Orange tested secretly in Panama August 20, 1999

The US military tested Agent Orange and other herbicides by secretly spraying them in Panama at the height of the Vietnam War, according to the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Members of the U.S. military, as well as civilians, may have been exposed to the extremely toxic chemical. Though it says all reports are unproven, the military reportedly tested the chemical over Panama because its tropical forests are similar to those in Vietnam. In Vietnam, The US sprayed Agent Orange to rapidly kill the tropical forests in which they suspected Viet Cong guerillas were hiding.

According to one American veteran, the military sprayed Agent Orange near populated areas in Panama, including a beach, a club, and a lake from which Panama City gets its drinking water. In addition to those who may have been exposed to the chemical in the '60s and '70s, an environmental sciences expert said Agent Orange could last in the soil for decades.

Panama is already seeking up to $500 million from the US for cleanup, and they expect claims of personal damages as well. Some point out that the US did not know how dangerous Agent Orange could be for those exposed. The Veterans Administration now recognizes nine diseases and disorders to be linked to Agent Orange exposure.
Agent Orange Affects Soldiers' Health
by John Lindsay-Poland

Chemical bomb shell on San
Jose Island, Panama.

The United States conducted military tests with Agent Orange in Panama in the late 1960s, according to a former military officials and some veterans who now suffer from Agent Orange-related diseases.

A veteran who has a medical claim before the Veterans Administration wrote to Panam Update in June that he saw U.S. Special Forces drop Agent Orange onto Fort Sherman in 1969 or 1970 and "watched the jungle disappear over the next few days." An Army engineer whose duty it was to take water samples, he also found high levels of Agent Orange in the coral reefs on Pacific side of the canal. Lake Gatun, where he witnessed the spraying, spills out of the canal into the Pacific reefs. He now suffers from peripheral neuropathy, a disease common to veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

In addition, Pamela Jones, the widow of another Army veteran who served in Panama, was awarded benefits in February by the Veterans Administration because of her husband's exposure to Agent Orange in Panama in the early 1970s. At her benefits hearing, the government's former head of the Agent Orange litigation project, Charles Bartlett, testified that several hundred barrels of Agent Orange had been shipped to Panama in the mid-1960s for tests. He said that after the tests the barrels remained in Panama for use in controlling weeds.

At least nine witnesses have confirmed that the military sprayed heavily with Agent Orange in an area of Fort Sherman known as the "drop zone" in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The "drop zone" is located not far from a popular beach, recreation center and sporting club on the shores of Lake Gatun.

The revelation is important because it establishes that Southeast Asia was not the only place where the United States exposed soldiers, and perhaps others, to Agent Orange. Until Jones won her claim, the Veterans Administration had institutionalized Agent Orange-related benefits for those who fought in Vietnam, and excluded others from consideration for such benefits.

One of the veterans awarded benefits because of his exposure to Agent Orange was Joseph Oppedisano, who served with the Army in Panama in 1956-58. Although Oppedisano's documented exposure to Agent Orange occurred later, in Camp Drumm, New York, while in Panama he became very sick after training with chemical agents.

On January 4, 1958, the entire island of Flamenco where he was stationed was defoliated, Oppedisano told Panam Update. "We had about ten million fish die. They got stuck on the rocks and made a stink," he said. He thought it was a secret military test. He and other soldiers on the island became violently ill and were hospitalized.

One of those soldiers, Israel Jewetz, testified that "the areas where we were barracked were sprayed with chemicals every day to control insect populations and prevent malaria and yellow fever outbreaks." Oppedisano developed hairy cell leukemia as a result of his exposures.

The Dallas Morning News spoke to both the veteran and Ms. Jones, and published two stories on August 20 and 24 about the issue. In the August 20 story, U.S. Southern Command spokesman Raul Duany said that if Agent Orange was sprayed, "it wouldn't pose a threat today because it should have dissipated by now."

However, the dioxin contained in most Agent Orange - the toxin that causes disease - remains in the soil for decades. The retired officer who ordered the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam as a defoliant contradicted Duany's claim. "It does not dissipate," said Admiral Elmo R. Zumwault, Jr. "If it's true that Agent Orange was tested in Panama, it is clear that the spokesman was wrong about the residual stuff."

Pesticides May Be Affecting Health

New information is also emerging about the heavy use of other kinds of pesticides in military bases in Panama besides Agent Orange, such as DDT and Chlordane, which were sprayed in residential areas of the Canal Zone, often daily, against termites. Both pesticides are banned in the United States. According to a preliminary study commissioned by Panama, "Though there is not enough data to establish a concise exposure scenario, there are plenty of indicators that demonstrate a significant human health hazard exists." The study, which took samples from Corozal and Clayton, concluded that "DDT, DDD, and DDE were all found in high quantities" on the two bases.

But the United States has not given Panama information on the application rates of these pesticides, according to a consultant for the Panamanian government. This is forcing Panama to consider health studies that can demonstrate the ill effects of the pesticides on surrounding populations.

An employee of Lockheed-Martin, which has been under contract to the Defense Department since 1996 to haul out toxic wastes from Panama, reported receiving a broad range of wastes. "We were handling cyanides, asbestos, poisons, known carcinogens, herbicides, pesticides," said Alfredo Smith, a supervisor at the Lockheed warehouse on Corozal base in Panama. "Some of this stuff had labels going back to the 1950s."

Smith told The Dallas Morning News that a Panamanian working under him began coughing up blood one day, after handling an unmarked barrel filled with a chemical powder. Smith himself experiences headaches, rashes, and other problems, and is suing Lockheed-Martin for lax safety procedures.

Press reports on chemicals used in the canal area have stimulated a number of memories about problems in the past. Former Canal Zone resident Don DeStaffino remembered a 10- or 12-year-old Panamanian child who died in the 1970s "in a jungle area of Howard AFB/Ft.Kobbe... The substance with which he came in contact that caused his death was in a 55 gallon barrel. I believe it was a yellow color, and a gel rather than a powder. I think the substance was claimed by the Air Force as a paint remover."

Sources: Interview with Joseph Oppedisano, 9/6/99; brief supporting Oppedisano appeal to Board of Veterans Appeals, 9/21/92; "Exposure Scenario Characterization for Human Health Risk Assessment due to Pesticide Contamination in the Canal Area," September 2, 1999; Dallas Morning News 8/20; 8/24; 10/11/99; Stars and Stripes 9/12/99; e-mails to FOR by veteran, 6/99; Don DeStaffino communication 10/12/99.


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