agent orange

All “It” Was Supposed To Do Was Defoliate The Trees.

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The “it” I am referring to is Agent Orange. It was used extensively in Vietnam and its consequences are devastating and far-reaching. The reason for my discussing Agent Orange is that a series of Town Hall Meetings was held last week in various locations in Western Oregon.  “The Faces of Agent Orange” is the title of the program. My wife’s sister Nancy Switzer was one of the speakers for the forum. She is one of the founders and former President of the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America (AVVA) and came all the way from Rochester, New York to Oregon. AVVA defines itself as “a non-profit membership organization dedicated to advancing the full range of issues affecting Vietnam Veterans, their families, and their communities.” Nancy invited my wife Sue, our daughter Michelle, and me to come to Lebanon for the forum. I might add that I thought I knew quite a bit about Agent Orange, but this gathering showed me just how much in the dark most of us are when it comes to this subject. “The Faces of Agent Orange” town hall meetings are sponsored by the AVVA and the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). This gathering was held at the River Center which is actually a church. Their pastor Lynn Koehn told me that one of the purposes of their church is to have their building available for the needs of the community such as this town hall meeting. The American Legion Color Guard started things off by presenting the colors. Everyone recited the Pledge of Allegiance and then the assembly that numbered about 250 were seated ready to get started.

Jim Willis Former Director of Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs
Jim Willis Former Director of Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs | Photo by Tim Chuey

The emcee for the night was Air Force veteran and former Director of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs Jim Willis. He described the purpose of these gatherings is to get veterans and their families together with the medical community to find ways to improve the care given to the veterans, their children, and their grandchildren and to continue research into the effects of Agent Orange itself. Most people don’t realize, I know I didn’t, just how Agent Orange affects the veterans and through their genes passes on serious medical problems to their own children and then even the grandchildren.

Mokie Pratt Porter, Vietnam Veterans of America Director Of Communications
Mokie Pratt Porter, Vietnam Veterans of America Director Of Communications | Photo by Tim Chuey

Willis introduced the first panel member Mokie Pratt Porter, Director of Communications for the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), who has made 14 trips to Vietnam in an effort to discover as much as possible concerning where and when Agent Orange was used and who was affected by the chemical spray. She explained that as early as 1969 the government was working on the Agent Orange problem, but their emphasis was on how it affected the Vietnamese population not our troops. It took a lot of work to finally get the government interested in understanding how Agent Orange has affected the veterans and their families. As I mentioned earlier it was developed to defoliate the trees where the enemy was hiding and the trees surrounding our military compounds so that the enemy snipers wouldn’t have a place to hide within range of our troops. It is estimated that 11 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. The most concentrated spraying in the year from July 1967 through July 1968. Ms. Porter described the veterans affected as “angry and motivated.” She is optimistic that they can win this battle, but they need the stories the veterans and their families have to tell concerning the myriad of ailments caused by this chemical exposure. They have held more than 70 town hall meetings so far throughout the country and plan to continue them until all of the veterans and their families have the information they need.

Drums Of Agent Orange From Video | Image from VVA Video
Drums Of Agent Orange From Video | Image from VVA Video

Two video presentations were shown and it was explained that the original formula for Agent Orange was tested and retested to make sure it would be of no harm to humans. The fly-in-the-ointment, if you will, was when the government wanted to drastically increase the production of the defoliant and the chemical company couldn’t keep up with the demand. As a result many other chemical companies were contracted to produce it. The problem was that each company made whatever modifications they wanted to the formula to suit their needs without any oversight. The result was that the toxicity of the new Agent Orange was completely unknown, but it was treated like the original formula and considered to be “safe.” So much for that assumption. You remember the old adage “if you assume you make an ass out of you and me.” Danielle Perry explained in one of the videos that she has multiple physical problems she believes developed as a result of her father’s exposure to the spray. He died from a heart attack at age 56. She also said that she carries “the weight of Vietnam on her shoulders” and she wasn’t even there.

Stephanie Holybee Daughter of Veteran Ken Holybee| Photo by Tim Chuey
Stephanie Holybee Daughter of Veteran Ken Holybee| Photo by Tim Chuey

Ken Holybee and his daughter Stephanie were up next. The troops were told that helicopters were spraying for mosquitoes in and around their camp. The spraying took place multiple times. As result not only was Ken affected but his daughter Stephanie explained that her children, the grandchildren of Ken who was the veteran, have extra bones in their ankles, one son is sterile, and one daughter has heart problems all of which are a result of Agent Orange exposure.

Nancy Switzer, Founder and Former AVVA President |Photo by Tim Chuey
Nancy Switzer, Founder and Former AVVA President | Photo by Tim Chuey

My sister-in-law Nancy Switzer came up to the microphone and explained that the veterans need to tell their families about what happened to them in Vietnam and especially when and where they were or might have been exposed to Agent Orange. She said she was here as “a wife, a mother and a grandmother.” Not only is she one of the founders of AVVA, but her husband Rick, a Vietnam vet, has been battling Prostate Cancer for years. Both of their children have physical problems as a result of Rick’s exposure. Their son has heart problems, their daughter has a learning disorder, and their granddaughter has a rare hip problem where her legs were outside of her hip joints when she was born. Nancy emphasized  the importance of filing the proper claim forms to the government. She asked how many have filed a claim and hands went up. She then asked how many have not filed a claim and again many hands went up. She exclaimed twice “Shame on you.” In order for the government to understand what Agent Orange has done to them and their progeny they have to submit the proper paperwork, starting with their discharge papers, with as much documentation as possible. “Stop blaming yourself. You didn’t do it. The government did it” she said. Nancy developed a packet of forms called the “Paper Safe” which when completely filled out will give the veteran’s loved ones all the information they will need to receive the benefits they have earned.

John Rowan, National President Vietnam Veterans of America | Photo by Tim Chuey
John Rowan, National President Vietnam Veterans of America | Photo by Tim Chuey

The last member of the panel was John Rowan current VVA President who is serving his 4th term holding that office. He explained that he enlisted in the Air Force in 1965. John was in Vietnam for only 30 days from June to July 1967 and during that time the foliage at the edge of their base, where the guard towers were located, was sprayed with Agent Orange. He suffers from a heart condition among other problems. He pointed out that they need to research the old research to see the complete picture.

I heard some definitions of terms that were new to me, this one in particular. There is a difference between blue water and brown water Navy. Blue water means the ocean where sailors were on ships offshore. Brown water refers to inland waterways such as rivers and streams. It would be a given that anything sprayed on trees near a river would end up in the river, but rivers run into the ocean and that brown water can push miles out into the ocean to be sucked up by the pumps on a ship and stored in tanks to be treated and used for showers and even drinking water. That means everyone on a ship in that situation had been exposed to the toxin. They are working diligently to account for every ship that was involved in the exposures. It takes a lot of searching into the military records to get the details needed for just one person to prove they were on a particular ship at the time it was exposed to Agent Orange. There is a long list of illnesses that have been approved by the VA as Agent Orange related, but there are many left that still do not qualify. There is a Vets 101 website that guides you through the initial benefits process.

Currently there is bill before Congress, S1602, which if passed will provide funds for further research and to help find all of the affected veterans and pass the information on to their families. They urge everyone to call or write to your senator and tell them to pass the bill in spite of the fact that congress can’t agree on funding just about anything.

Audience Member Veteran Asks a Question | Photo by Tim Chuey
Audience Member Veteran Asks a Question | Photo by Tim Chuey

After their presentations the floor was opened to anyone who had a story to tell or questions that had not been answered yet by the panel. Hopefully those present will keep spreading the word to other veterans to encourage them to file a claim and discuss Agent Orange issues with their families.

If you are a veteran of any war or know one please let them know that all military personnel  who were exposed to any toxin, whether it was Agent Orange or radiation, or something else, in Vietnam or somewhere else  should file a claim right now with the government.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Groups call for buffer zones in pesticide use

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Aerial spraying of pesticides, or “crop dusting,” is a practice dating back to 1906.

Several public advocacy groups held a rally today against pesticides at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza during the Saturday Market. Pitchfork Rebellion, an anti-pesticide group from the Triangle Lake area organized “Occupy This! Rally for Pesticide Justice and Jobs!” The event called for banning aerial spraying of pesticides near homes and schools, creating a buffer zone to protect people’s health.

The rally began with a performance by local reggae/jam band Sol Seed, followed by a spoken word protest performance calling for a “pure organic Oregon.”

Then “Day,” a resident of the Triangle Lake area, took to the stage. Day is one of several residents of Triangle Lake who has been documented to have the pesticides 2,4-D and atrazine in his urine. 2,4-D, or 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, is a major ingredient in Agent Orange, one of the chemicals used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War. A professional analysis of four public streams near Day’s and other residents’ homes found these pesticides in all of the streams.

Several environmental groups held a rally today against pesticides at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza during the Saturday Market.

Day said,

“We’re just a bunch of hillbillies from Triangle Lake tired of getting hit by pesticides everyday.”

Studies by numerous organizations, from the EPA to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to public universities, have documented the effects of human consumption of pesticides. Pesticides can cause damage to the human nervous system, reproductive system and other organs, developmental and behavioral abnormalities, disruption of hormone function as well as immune dysfunction.

Day introduced Roy Key, a professional forester of over 40 years. Key said he was there to talk about the dangers of pesticide poisoning in Lane County.

“I’ve been in the forest business for 40 years. I’ve managed forests without herbicides or pesticides. You don’t need those substances to manage the forest.”

Key compared pesticide use to his experience in the Vietnam War.

“It’s just like Agent Orange all over again. But here in Lane County.”

Key called on attendees to tell Oregon governor John Kitzhaber to stop the use of pesticides in the state near homes and schools.

Day, a resident of Triangle Lake, has been documented to have the pesticides 2,4-D and atrazine in his urine. A professional analysis of four public streams near Day’s and other residents’ homes found these and other pesticides in all of the streams.

Oregon already has a buffer zone to protect waterways and salmon species. Streamside protection rules for non-federal forest land in Oregon were adopted in 1994. All private, state and local government forest landowners or operators conducting pesticide operations near streams, lakes or wetlands must comply with these rules. In November 2011, a federal judge upheld buffer zones for pesticide use near streams and rivers. Dow Chemical Company, a leader in specialty chemicals based in Michigan, filed a lawsuit seeking to undo the Oregon rules, saying that they were too restrictive. The restrictions ban the ground spraying of three agricultural insecticides within 500 feet of waterways with salmon. They also ban aerial spraying within 1000 feet of said waterways.

While Oregon has a buffer zone for pesticide use near water, it has not adopted a buffer zone near human activity. The Oregon Department of Forestry says,

“Currently, there are no regulations in Oregon requiring a buffer zone for aerial application of herbicides near specific structures or facilities, including schools.”

There are, nonetheless, safety requirements in how pesticides are used, both in residential and forested situations:

“While pesticide use in a residential setting must abide by pesticide label safety requirements, forestry applications must follow those requirements plus additional regulations spelled out in the Oregon Forest Practices Act.”

Pesticide companies, such as Dow Chemical, argue that their products abide by these safety requirements. Concerning 2,4-D, the substance found in Triangle Lake residents, Dow Chemical has said the following:

“2,4-D is available for use in U.S. crop production today because EPA has determined, after evaluating all human health and safety considerations – including the concerns expressed by activists – that current uses (including currently authorized uses on corn) pose ‘a reasonable certainty of no harm.’ This EPA conclusion was reached only after the Agency had considered all relevant data…This regulatory conclusion is supported by mainstream health and safety experts who have thoroughly evaluated the product.”

The application of pesticides has had a long and controversial history. Dr. Patricia Muir, Professor at Oregon State University’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, says that, following World War 2,

Ingrid Edstrom, nurse practitioner at Eugene’s Infrared Breast Thermography LLC, spoke of the link between pesticides and breast cancer. “Oregon has the second highest breast cancer rate per capita in the nation,” she added.

“Chemical pesticides have become the most important consciously-applied form of pest management.”

The Oregon Department of Forestry explains this popularity according to pesticides’ cost-effectiveness:

“Many landowners see herbicides as the most cost-effective means of achieving their reforestation goals following logging or fire, or for converting neglected brush land to forests.”

The first important pesticide was DDT (otherwise known as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). Muir says,

“DDT was discovered in 1939 by a Swiss chemist Paul Muller. In its early days, it was hailed as a miracle…It was inexpensive and easy to apply. It was so effective at killing pests and thus boosting crop yields and was so inexpensive to make that its use quickly spread over the globe. In 1948, Muller was awarded the Nobel Prize for its discovery.”

As years went by, however, DDT was labeled both directly and indirectly toxic to many organisms. Most disturbingly, as Muir explains, DDT

“showed up in human breast milk at remarkably high concentrations — so high that the milk couldn’t legally be sold through interstate commerce if it were cow’s milk! [DDT] is the most widespread contaminant in human milk around the world.”

While DDT was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972, other pesticides are commonly used in Oregon. The last year in which Oregon has data compiled for pesticide use is 2008. That year it was reported that 280,001 pounds of pesticides (chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion) were used in the state.

A rally attendee protests 2,4-D, one of the pesticides found in streams near Triangle Lake.

The groups that rallied today are hoping to change how those hundreds of thousands of pounds of pesticides are administered. They asked all attendees to fill out postcards to Governor Kitzhaber to ask for expanding pesticide buffer zones to include not just fish, but people.

Christina Hubbard, the Project Director of Forest Web, also spoke at the rally. Forest Web is a grassroots conservation organization based in Cottage Grove. Hubbard said,

“Forest Web stands in solidarity with these groups. I’ve personally been working with Day since 2007. A lot of these pople have had major clinical studies done on their urine and it is documented that they have pesticide poisoning.”

Hubbard says this rally’s message is not particularly radical.

“Really what this is about is creating a reasonable buffer zone for aerial spraying. This is common sense, to protect homes and schools.”

For more information about Oregon’s use of pesticides in agriculture, go to the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s website at http://oregon.gov/ODA/PEST/. For more information about Oregon’s use of them in forestry, go to the Oregon Department of Forestry’s website at http://www.oregon.gov/ODF/privateforests/pesticides.shtml. Websites for the groups involved in the rally are: Pitchfork Rebellion, http://pitchforkrebellion.com/; STOP, http://stop-oregon.org/; Forest Web, http://www.forestweb-cg.org/.