BY GEORGE CLAXTON, CHAIR
I dedicate this column to the memory of
Steve Mason and Sarge Schaefer, whose widow, Fara, asked me in
Reno “never to give up the fight on Agent Orange.” The
premature loss of these two gifted men spurs me on in my
work—and should spur all of us on in our commitment to justice
for those of us whose health has been compromised because of
exposure to dioxin.
Those who have read Robert Allen’s excellent book, The
Dioxin War, know that the health effects of dioxin are
hardly unique to Americans. Most recently, the contamination
with dioxin of an area of the Canadian Forces Base at Gagetown,
New Brunswick, has come to light.
The granting of a pension to the widow of Gordon Seller, who
died from leukemia attributed to exposure to Agent Orange,
helped focus attention on the health issues associated with
dioxin. Gordon Seller was no ordinary soldier. Before his
death, he had been Director General of Canadian Land Forces.
In the wake of General Seller’s death, almost 700 applications
for monthly disability pensions have been filed with Canadian
Veterans Affairs. To date, four applications have been
approved. Two of these are related to exposure to the
defoliant at Gagetown; two others have been granted to
Canadians who served in Vietnam.
According to an account reported by the Associated Press, the
son of a deceased soldier believes that exposure to dioxin is
responsible for the death of his father. “We’re seeing entire
families wiped out by cancers, brain disorders, and bowel
disorders,” Kenneth Dobbie of Ottawa said. “They all have the
same common thread. They were all at Gagetown in the 1960s and
In New Zealand, part of the town of New Plymouth may be
sitting an a secret toxic waste dump containing Agent Orange.
According to a former top official at the Ivon Watkins Dow
chemical factory in New Plymouth, Dow owned land “very close
to the chemical plant, which we called ‘the Experimental
Farm.’ We bulldozed big pits and dumped thousands of tons of
The official, whose identity was confirmed but who insisted on
remaining anonymous, told a reporter that “people who’d served
in the armed forces made a strong case for the need to
defoliate the jungle, because of the risk to servicemen from
ambush or sniper fire from the undergrowth.
“So we began manufacturing this Agent Orange, but it didn’t
meet the international specifications and probably had an
excess of ‘nasties’ in it. The problem was, we didn’t consider
the product was harmful to humans at the time.
“Our scientists relied on assurances and technical data
provided to them by Dow Chemical in the U.S.A. We were led to
believe it was safe. The whole reason I supported Agent Orange
[manufacture] is because we thought we were giving our boys on
the ground a hand.”
At stake now is the possibility of massive compensation
payments by the government of New Zealand to those who have
suffered birth defects and certain chronic illnesses.