Ms. Chandra Pasma and her colleagues with Dave Mackenzie MP's office have made a terrific timeline of the events that happened at CFB Gagetown. We at Agent Orange Alert thank Mr. Mackenzie's office. Your efforts are truly appreciated!
Timeline of Events
1952 – Canadian Forces Base Gagetown opens. Most deforested areas are originally cleared mechanically.
1956 – Attempts to maintain cleared areas brush-free by means of chemical herbicides begin. Most applications are of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, and are distributed by fixed-wing aircraft.
1964 – National Defence approaches the Department of Fisheries and Forestry regarding alternative methods of brush control.
1964 – An application "incident" results in spray of 2,4-D plus 2,4,5-T drifting over the Upper Gagetown and Sheffield area.
1965 – All future applications of chemical herbicides are done by helicopter, which has more controlled targeting.
1966 and 1967 – Tests emanating from DND’s request to DFF are finally carried out (in conjunction with the Province of New Brunswick). Herbicides tested include six containing 2,4,5-T and nine containing picloram.
1966 and 1967 – At the invitation of the Canadian government, the US military conducts tests of Agents Orange, Purple and Tordon 101, among other compounds.
1965 through 1984 – Spraying of Tordon.
1981 – January 22, NDP MPs Terry Sergeant and Simon de Jong table "Technical Memorandum No 141, Defoliation Tests in 1966 at Base Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada" in the House of Commons.
1985 – Canadian Forces personnel give members of the New Brunswick cabinet a briefing on the use of herbicides at Gagetown, in which Major Mike Rushton admits the government knew and was concerned by the dioxin in 2,4,5-T already in 1964.
1985 – Soil tests conducted at a dump site on CFB Gagetown reveal no traces of dioxin, although they do contain picloram and 2,4-D residues. Tests are not conducted in the spray areas.
2000-2005 – 25 applications are made to Veterans Affairs for a disability pension relating to Agent Orange. Three pensions were awarded in December 2000, June 2004, and November 2004. Of these, two related to Vietnam, while one, to Brigadier-General Gordon Sellar, was attributed for exposure to Agent Orange at Base Gagetown.
June 23, 2005 – DND holds a public meeting at CFB Gagetown to assuage public fears, downplays the spraying of herbicides.
June, 2005 – Special cabinet committee is formed on the issue of Agent Orange.
August 16, 2005 – DND’s response to Agent Orange is finally announced: an Outreach Coordinator and three fact-finding tasks to be contracted out. Vaughn Blaney is named as coordinator.
September, 2005 – VAC reports it received 925 requests regarding Agent Orange, with just over 100 completed applications returned. Of the 45 reviewed, only 1 was approved for a pension.
October 4, 2005 – Outreach coordinator Vaughn Blaney resigns.
November 16, 2005 - Dr. Dennis Furlong announced as New Fact-Fiinding and Outreach Coordinator.
November 17, 2005 - SCONDVA Meeting
Gloria Sellar, Kenneth Dobbie, John Chisholm, Wayne Cardinal, Jody Carr and Art Connolly appear before the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veteran Affairs to testify regarding their knowledge of the defoliants sprayed at CFB Gagetown.
January 12, 2006 - Stephen Harper promises Agent Orange Compensation
January 13, 2006 - AOAC has press conference and announces that an additional 2 million lbs of dry chemical defoliant was sprayed during the same time frame in addition to the 1. 3 million liters.
June 1, 2006 Base Gagetown and Area Fact Finder Project holds "by invitation only" press conference and releases first two reports to media.
July 14, 2006 BGAFFP releases report "Final Report" Fact Finding Task # 1
July 28, 2006 - Massey University of New Zeland releases results of a study that shows new Zealand soldiers who had been sprayed by Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam suffer from chromosonal damage. The study goes on to say that damge is passed on to the children and grandchildren of the soldiers.
October 13, 2006 VAC Minister Greg Thompson announces he hopes to present a compensation package to parliament this fall.
December 7, 2006 BGAFFP releases report Final Report Task 3a-1 Tier 2
The Spraying Program
Since 1956, chemical herbicides and defoliants have been used to control brush at CFB Gagetown. Between 1956-1984, 181 038 acres were sprayed with 6504 barrels of chemicals, or 1 328 767 litres (292 680 gallons).
Spraying is on-going – 2,4-D was sprayed as recently as last year and was supposed to have been sprayed this year until concerns over the spray program were raised in May. CFB Gagetown currently sprays Roundup.
Officials argue control of dense vegetation is necessary to prevent it from being ignited by unexploded ordinance.
The compounds used during the duration of the spray program at CFB Gagetown which are of concern because of their connection to serious health concerns are 2,4,5-T, 2,4-D, Agents Orange and Purple and Tordon 101.
2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid is contaminated by dioxin if it is allowed to attain a temperature greater than 160˚C during the production process. The level of dioxin varies according to production, although some experts maintain military 2,4,5-T had higher levels of dioxin than civilian because it was produced rapidly in response to high demand.
2,4,5-T was tested at Gagetown in 1956-1958, 1960-1961, 1963-1964 and 1966-67.
While DND has focused on Agents Orange and Purple as being the source of dioxin, Wayne Dwernychuk, a biologist with Hatfield Consultants, suggests that the earlier formulations of 2,4,5-T were probably even more contaminated than the compounds made in the late 1960s and 1970s
Linked to a number of serious health conditions, including skin disorders, nerve disorders, diabetes and numerous cancers.
Not all people who are exposed to dioxin absorb the chemical into their body, although there is no amount of dioxin that can be considered a safe level. Whether people get sick from it or not depends on how much they have in their bodies, although some people are more sensitive to it than others.
While it breaks down with UV exposure, it can survive for decades in soil and water and can move out of spray areas due to runoff or through ingestion by animals such as birds and fish.
Karen Ellis, DNDs ADM for Infrastructure and Environment, claimed that the dioxin contained in the Agents Orange and Purple sprayed in 1966 and 1967 would have broken down very quickly. According to Dwernychuk, however, while dioxin does degrade in sunlight, it is a long process that would take more than a few days.
Dioxin is fat soluble, and can therefore be passed up the food chain from animals to humans.
Dioxin can be tested for in soil, water and humans, but each dioxin test costs upwards of $900.
In 1985, in a briefing to members of the New Brunswick cabinet, Major Mike Rushton admitted the government knew about and was concerned by dioxin in 2,4,5-T and therefore decided not to use it after 1964. (Although it was an ingredient in 8 of the tests conducted in 1966 and 1967 by the Canadian military and the US military).
Major Mike Rushton suggested that the 2,4-D sprayed on Gagetown was contaminated by traces of dioxin, but no other source corroborates this idea.
However, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment has raised significant concerns about 2,4-D.
A report by the Ontario College of Physicians linked 2,4-D exposure during pregnancy and childhood to a two-fold increase in the incidence of leukemia, although this report is contested by major chemical companies.
2,4-D has also been linked by some medical research to sterility, respiratory problems, atrophy and non-hodgkins lymphoma.
2,4-D functions by mimicking the hormones which control plants’ growth and development, blocking nutrients and causing abnormalities – almost like a cancer.
2,4-D was sprayed at CFB Gagetown as recently as last year. Spraying was scheduled again for this year, but was cancelled after concerns were raised over the spraying program in May.
Soil tests conducted in 1985 revealed 2,4-D residues in liquid and soil samples.
The most infamous of all the defoliants used at CFB Gagetown, Agent Orange is a 1:1 combination of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. As with its components, the greatest concern is the amount of dioxin it contains.
Agent Orange was sprayed at CFB Gagetown by the US military in 1966 and 1967 at the request of the Canadian government. It was sprayed for three days in 1966 and four days in 1967.
DND is conducting research to see if it can determine the amount of dioxin in the Agents used in 1966 and 1967.
Ellis has suggested "The vast majority of Agent Orange…would have been absorbed by the forest canopy or would have broken down in sunlight, with very little reaching the ground." Dwernychuk counters this suggestion is misleading, because although it degrades in sunlight, this process actually takes several days. It also appears ludicrous in light of the fact that Agent Orange was a defoliant.
Agent Purple was Agent Orange’s more lethal cousin with more than three times the level of dioxin as Agent Orange. It was also laced with arsenic.
Agent Purple is 50% 2,4-D, 30% n-butyl ester 2,4,5-T and 20% isobutyl ester 2,4,5-T.
Agent Purple was so bad that the Americans stopped using it in Vietnam the year before it was tested at CFB Gagetown.
Agent Purple was sprayed by the US military in 1966 and 1967 at the request of the Canadian government. It was sprayed for three days in 1966 and four days in 1967.
Agent White (Tordon 101)
This chemical defoliant is the one which has received the least attention. Agent White (Tordon) contains picloram, which contains Hexachlorobenzene (HCB).
HCB causes multiple diseases and organ failures. It is listed by Health Canada as a cancer causing toxin.
Agent White (Tordon) was applied by helicopter from 1965-1974. In 1975, the CF switched to Tordon pellets. In 1983, Agent White (Tordon) applications stopped when DND became concerned about Picloram.
In 1985, manufacturers were required to remove HCB from Agent White (Tordon), and it was not recertified for use until 1988.
In addition to the annual applications of Agent White (Tordon), of the chemicals tested in 1966 and 1967 by DND, nine contained picloram.
In 1985, tests at CFB Gagetown revealed picloram residues in soil and liquid samples.
Canadian Forces Veterans
Certainly those who faced the greatest threat were the flagmen for the helicopters which sprayed the tests. They reported being utterly drenched in a liquid they were assured was safe.
Other Canadian Forces personnel may have come into contact with these toxic chemicals during the course of normal operations on the base, although this exposure is difficult, if not impossible, to prove forty years after the fact.
Families of Canadian Forces veterans
The base wasn’t merely a location for military activities. Many soldiers engaged in family activities on the base, including berry picking, trout fishing and drinking from streams. Depending on the levels of residue in the environment, all of these activities may have compromised the health of military families.
Civilians also worked at the base, including students who spent summers clearing brush on the base.
DND records reveal that spraying frequently took place in relatively close proximity to surrounding communities. Distances ranged from 1-7 kilometers. This would have been of particular concern during the eight years when application was conducted with fixed-wing aircraft, since by DND’s own admission, this made targeting much more difficult.
In 1964, there was a "spray application accident" as 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T was being applied by fixed-wing aircraft. "A temperature inversion and increasing soil temperatures suspended the spray above the target species. Several hours later the increased winds carried the spray to the Upper Gagetown and Sheffield area…The Crown paid approximately $250 000 to several market gardens in the area as reparation for the damage to their crops."
DND denies any likelihood that civilians were ever affected by the spray program at CFB Gagetown. They state the only recourse for non-military personnel who believe they were affected is to seek legal counsel.
There is anecdotal evidence of British military personnel who spent time at CFB Gagetown during the spray period. The Maine National Guard has also used the base for annual training exercises since 1971.
The Government Response
Department of National Defence
DND has been notoriously reluctant to admit anything regarding the use of chemical defoliants at CFB Gagetown. They tend to admit only what has already been revealed by other sources.
What DND is admitting: small-scale testing of various defoliants and dessicants in 1966 and 1967 – only 472 acres of 271 816 acres of CFB Gagetown. They are almost exclusively focused on Agents Orange and Purple.
DND also claims that "The vast majority of Agent Orange…would have been absorbed by the forest canopy or would have broken down in sunlight, with very little reaching the ground."
DND is downplaying all health effects of Agents Orange and Purple: "The health effects of Agents Orange and Purple exposure remain unclear. The Government of Canada is not suggesting that these agents are not harmful; however, adverse affects (sic) of exposure must be determined by the potential of the chemical to cause harm…"
DND maintains that there is "little chance civilians living outside the base were exposed to chemicals used in this testing." Although in June, Graham stated that he was "very anxious" to develop a government-wide program for dealing with non-military financial claims, DND’s official line is that the only recourse for non-military personnel is to seek legal counsel.
The Department is "combing old files", although repeatedly the media and members of the general public appear able to find information in DND’s own documents far more quickly than DND officials can. When the story on Agent Purple broke, a spokesperson for Graham said he didn’t even think department officials were aware of the use of Agent Purple, despite the fact that the US report was available on the internet.
DND held a public meeting at CFB Gagetown on June 23, 2005.
DND’s Official Reponse
On August, 16, Andy Scott announced the official response: a Fact-finding and Outreach Coordinator, and three fact-finding tasks.
The Fact-finding and Outreach coordinator is intended to serve as the principal conduit of information between the federal government and the public.
He is to communicate the concerns of the community to the government, and inform the community of work being done by the government.
Vaughn Blaney was named as the Coordinator. On October 4, he resigned from this position. As yet, no new coordinator has been named.
The three fact-finding tasks are to be conducted by contracted, non- governmental experts.
Research of government documents for Canadian Forces personnel and DND civilian employees who may have been present at the spraying.
Review of the spraying program at CFB Gagetown 1952-2005, to identify the environmental fate and impact of the herbicides used.
a. A health study to identify the potential risks of the herbicides used.
b. A descriptive epidemiological study of the Gagetown community,
to be compared with another community to determine what the
long-term health effects of exposure may be.
No fixed time frame, budget or total cost estimate was announced. Before his resignation, Blaney anticipated that results from the three fact-finding tasks would be available by the end of 2006.
The coordinator had very uncertain powers. He basically could do no more than make recommendations to the government.
Dioxin Testing at CFB Gagetown
DND has contracted Jacques Whitford, a North American geotechnical firm with an office in Fredericton to collect samples from CFB Gagetown. 1000 samples will be collected.
DND has contracted the Research and Productivity Council, a New Brunswick lab located not far from Gagetown, to analyze the samples. Results are not expected before January, 2006.
In 1985, soil and water tests were conducted at a dump site on CFB Gagetown. 666 drums were excavated, 112 of which were found to contain residues of Tordon 101. Liquid and soil samples also revealed residues of picloram and 2,4-D.
Wayne Dwernychuk cautions that although the tests revealed no Agent Orange residues, this does not mean there are none at CFB Gagetown, since the tests were conducted exclusively at the dump site and not at the spraying site. Furthermore, the tests were conducted with low resolution detection equipment which likely was not strong enough to identify dioxin.
Dioxin soil tests are normally measured in parts per trillion. According to David Hope, CEO of Pacific Rim Labs, this is akin to trying to find a jar of instant coffee dumped in Lake Ontario.
Dioxin water tests are conducted in parts per quadrillion. Hope compares this to trying to find a $20 bill anywhere in Canada.
DND is paying for the testing, although any cleanup necessitated would come from Environment Canada.
Magnetic imaging in August revealed 3 potential burial sites of barrels. These sites will also be excavated and tested.
VAC is awarding disability pensions to those veterans who can prove that their medical condition is directly linked to exposure to Agents Orange or Purple. Four pensions have been awarded to date, 2 related to Vietnam and 2 related to CFB Gagetown.
There is, however, no set standard for what constitutes exposure. Rather it is decided on a case-by-case basis. Evidence of exposure must be presented, although adjudicators may decide what form the evidence can take. Guidelines for adjudicators suggest that examples of exposure include "direct involvement in the preparation of herbicide formulations, spraying, clean-up operations, or being in the immediate vicinity at the time of spraying."
Janice Summerby, a VAC spokesperson, states that "exposure likely to constitute a health threat" is "fairly direct exposure, usually through inhalation, ingestion or skin contact."
At the end of September, VAC had received 925 requests for applications and information. 100 completed applications were received, and 45 of these had been reviewed. Only 1 pension was approved. (3 pensions were granted to Gagetown vets for disabilities not related to Agent Orange).
VAC has been criticized for telling veterans they must return their application within 30 days or their application will be discontinued. The application is quite lengthy and must be accompanied by a medical diagnosis.
VAC has formed a special review committee to re-examine failed Agent Orange claims and to process new ones.
They are not using their electronic database of failed claims to identify potential victims and get them to reapply.
VAC is also not making any attempt to locate and notify veterans who might have been exposed. Their only attempt is an article in Salute! magazine.
The US example
In 1978, the US Department of Veterans Affairs set up a special examination program, the Agent Orange Registry, which included medical examinations for veterans at DVA medical centres.
Since 1981, DVA has conducted an education campaign for veterans on Agent Orange and its health effects. They have also conducted extensive research on Agent Orange. In 1994, the Domestic Policy Council’s Agent Orange Working Group estimated that there were 38 ongoing and 189 completed government projects.
Since 1982, the DVA has published an Agent Orange Review.
As part of their education program, DVA has made more than 22 briefs available on Agent Orange and related medical conditions. They also include information on who is qualified for compensation and how to apply.
DVA has also established an Agent Orange helpline.
Recognizing the difficult burden of proof placed on veterans and the weight of evidence suggesting linkages between Agent Orange and many health conditions, DVA grants pensions on a presumptive basis. If a veteran has a medical condition proven to be linked to Agent Orange, he or she is granted a pension without needing to prove causation.
An online petition with more than 650 signatures from around the world calls upon the Canadian government to recognize the health effects of Agent Orange.
A class-action suit against the government has been launched. The plaintiffs are being represented by Merchant Law Group. The suit includes 700 (K. Dobbie) people so far, although it has not yet received approval as a class-action suit.
Many veterans and their family members, including the Agent Orange Association of Canada, are calling for a public inquiry. ( Greg Thompson, MP and Jody Carr, MLA. who are calling for a technical review.)
Cliff Chadderton of the National Council of Veterans Associations has said that VAC has a duty to find those who have been affected, and that the situation requires "a pretty big public relations effort." He has also called on VAC to adopt the US’s presumptive policy.