Sunday, February 23, 2014

New Study Finds VA Wrong on C-123 Aircraft Herbicide Contamination

A report in the Huffington Post on Friday, 21 February, 2014 offers a look into the effects of Tactical Herbicides long after the end of the Vietnam War.  

The nation's leading researcher on Agent Orange and other herbicides used in Vietnam, Dr. Jeanne Stellman, of Columbia University, led a team of researchers looking into the use of the main aircraft that were used to spray the herbicides in Operation Ranch Hand during the war.  They were C-123 'Provider' Aircraft built by the Fairchild Aircraft Company.
"To show that such exposures likely did happen, Stellman said, her research team had to be "very clever."

"After a decade of spraying more than 10 million gallons of Agent Orange to destroy enemy cover and crops, the C-123s underwent no testing -- or decontamination, for that matter -- prior to their new stateside assignments with the Air Force Reserve. Between 1971 and 1982, about 1,500 men and women served aboard 34 C-123s that were previously deployed in Operation Ranch Hand.

"It wasn't until 1979, when crews complained about chemical smells, that officials took the first measures of potential contamination. Samples of wiped surfaces in 1994, and again in 2009, supplemented this 1979 air sample data. All but three of the planes have since been smelted.

"Stellman, Richard Clapp of the Boston University School of Public Health, Fred Berman of Oregon Health and Science University and Peter Lurker, an environmental engineering consultant and former U.S. Air Force researcher, used this sparse data in three different models. All resulted in estimated exposure levels that exceeded health guidelines for the contaminants."
"The team noted that their findings may be extremely conservative.
"The levels of toxic chemicals -- measured years, even decades, after the veterans were aboard the C-123s -- were likely much higher immediately after the war, researchers said. Airborne levels may also have been particularly high while the planes were airborne, due to extreme temperatures, changes in pressure and vibrations.

"One of the models that researchers used, which Stellman suggested was based on a "high school chemistry" concept, demonstrated how the old herbicide could have evaporated and attached to dust particles.

"The VA, whether out of ignorance or malice, has denied the entire existence of this entire branch of science," said Stellman. "They have this preposterous idea that somehow there is this other kind of state of matter -- a dried residue that is completely inert."

"Clapp, one of the co-authors, emphasized how "exquisitely toxic" dioxin is at any dose. The chemical has been linked to a host of health effects including cancers, heart disease and diabetes.
"Exposure to even tiny quantities is not ignorable," he said.

"We do show plausible exposure," added Clapp. "These veterans should be compensated, too."
 Even now, the VA has this posted on their website under the heading of Agent Orange Residue on Post-Vietnam War Airplanes:
"Some Veterans who were crew members on C-123 Provider aircraft, formerly used to spray Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, have raised health concerns about exposure to residual amounts of herbicides on the plane surfaces.

"VA’s Office of Public Health thoroughly reviewed all available scientific information regarding the exposure potential. We concluded that the potential of exposure for the post-Vietnam crews that flew or maintained these planes was extremely low and therefore, the risk of long-term health effects is minimal.

Testing for Agent Orange residue on planes

"The U.S. Air Force (USAF) collected and analyzed numerous samples from C-123 aircraft to test for Agent Orange. USAF's risk assessment report (April 27, 2012) (2.3 MB, PDF) found that potential exposures to Agent Orange in C-123 planes used after the Vietnam War were unlikely to have put aircrew or passengers at risk for future health problems. The report’s three conclusions:
  1. There was not enough information and data to conclude how much individual persons would have been exposed to Agent Orange.
  2. It is expected that exposure to Agent Orange in these aircraft after the Vietnam War was lower than exposure during the spraying missions in Vietnam.
  3. Potential Agent Orange exposures were unlikely to have exceeded standards set by regulators or to have put people at risk for future health problems."
One has to wonder how the Air Force was able to conduct its study in 2012 when all theC-123s had been smelted after 2009.  Talk about deceit!

This is not the first study Dr. Stellman has conducted on Agent Orange/Tactical Herbicides.  We do not know who commissioned the study [in the past, it was the Institute of Medicine, tasked by the VA to report on the effect of Agent Orange on Vietnam Veterans every two years.], but this study further enhances Dr. Stellman's status as one of our heroes [check our list of Heroes in the right column of this page!], and encourages us to believe that the good Doctor will eventually conduct a study on the effect of sea water runoff containing dioxin contaminating the water on US Navy ships off the coast of Vietnam. 

When a highly respected American scientist of the caliber of Dr. Stellman uses the words "ignorance or malice' to describe the VA's attitude and approach to the issue, some folks in Washington need to sit up and take notice.   So does the rest of the country. 


”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Obama Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

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