REPORT REVEALS EXTENT OF SPRAYING ON NEW BRUNSWICK BASE
Nine locations at CFB Gagetown have, still today, unacceptable levels of dioxins resulting from chemical spraying that occurred during the last half century, a federal fact-finding investigation has revealed.
That is six more than the federal government had previously acknowledged.
The revelation was included in the first of a series of reports into the history of spraying on the New Brunswick base and the potential health effects of the chemicals on people living nearby.
The two studies were ordered by Ottawa, which is considering compensation for people who say they were harmed by herbicides sprayed at the base.
They reveal several different herbicides were sprayed at Gagetown between 1956 and 2004, including agents Orange, Purple and White.
It confirms that the U.S. military tested Agent Orange – which was used extensively by the U.S. in the Vietnam War, and has been the subject of numerous lawsuits in the States – at CFB Gagetown in 1966 and 1967.
But it also reveals that several other groups tested chemical herbicides on base property before and after the American tests. Those groups included the Canadian Forest Service and the U.S.-based multinational Dow Chemical Co., which tested commercial herbicides on base property in 1990.
Base officials also sprayed chemicals as part of their annual program to clear land and control brush between 1956 and 2004. The report reveals that program included spraying components of Agent Orange in four separate years prior to the American tests.
The report also said 24 different herbicides were used since 1956, with 14 active ingredients, many of them linked with dioxins, but that all chemical spraying was done in compliance with the laws of the day. Dennis Furlong, the former New Brunswick health minister who took over as co-ordinator of the federal inquiry last fall, said the hard facts need to be shown without the emotion that has often been attached to the issue.
“Everybody had a personal impression of what took place, but what we needed to know is what actually took place,” he said. “That is what these documents are about.”
“I’m content today that between 1952 and today we finally have one concise document that tells us what happened, when and how it was applied, how much was applied and where it was applied,” Furlong said. “Now we have to do the other step, bring that all together in one final piece of information that goes to the government of Canada for decision-making.”
Hundreds of people have come forward to claim their health was affected by the use of herbicide sprays at the base since it opened in the 1950s.
Until the 1980s, those sprays contained dioxin, a toxic by-product now banned. Three of the nine locations revealed to have unacceptable levels of dioxins have already been declared off-limits to people. Base officials are now deciding what to do about the other six.
Widely used during the war in Vietnam, the sprays are blamed for numerous health problems in that country and among U.S. veterans of the war.
Some veterans and civilians who worked on the base complain the entire fact-finding mission, which could take at least another year to complete its work, is a stalling tactic.
“I would like to see a compensation package announced today,” said Wayne Cardinal, who spent nearly 40 years in the Canadian Forces.
That won’t happen today, Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor said.
“My understanding, by talking to people on the ground there, [is that] it’s going to take another year for us to resolve this issue, at which time, if we find people that have ailments linked to the activities there, there will be compensation,” he said. “But we have to make that linkage.”
Thursday’s reports are the first of several, Furlong said. The hardest work is yet to come. That includes tracking down all of the people who worked at CFB Gagetown over the past 50 years during spraying. About 50,000 have so far been identified.
A major health study has also to be done, and that could take until the middle of next year to complete.