The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

September/October 2005
Agent Orange Committee Report
   
 

Paradise Lost

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 70s.”

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 chemicals there.”

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.

   

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