In 1965 another navy Chief Petty Officer and I was sent to a school at the Naval Air Station, Alameda, California...It was named THE DISEASE VECTOR CLASS and was taught by Medical Personnel..The students simply called it
THE BUG AND RAT SCHOOL...During that period of time, Dutch and I was teaching NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL, AND CHEMICAL WARFARE (NBC) subjects back at our base and needed these additional classified details for gathering pertinent data under actual conditions...Rats, mice, mosquitoes and other organisims were trapped and collected and worked on in actual labratory situations...defoilants and soil sterilants that we were made familar with were then named 245T and 24D...The name AGENT ORANGE was to be coined later when these two very dangerous chemicals were combined and containers holding the stuff was marked with an Orange band or letter of some description. Chief
The Toronto Star February 17, 2011
Star Exclusive: Agent Orange “soaked” Ontario teens
Diana Zlomislic Staff Reporter
Cancer-causing toxins used to strip the jungles of Vietnam were also employed to clear massive plots of Crown land in Northern Ontario, government documents obtained by the Toronto Star reveal.
Records from the 1950s, 60s and 70s show forestry workers, often students and junior rangers, spent weeks at a time as human markers holding red, helium-filled balloons on fishing lines while low-flying planes sprayed toxic herbicides including an infamous chemical mixture known as Agent Orange on the brush and the boys below.
“We were saturated in chemicals,” said Don Romanowich, 63, a former supervisor of an aerial spraying program in Kapuskasing, Ont., who was recently diagnosed with a slow-growing cancer that can be caused by herbicide exposure. “We were told not to drink the stuff but we had no idea.”
A Star investigation examined hundreds of boxes of forestry documents and found the provincial government began experimenting with a powerful hormone-based chemical called 2,4,5-T — the dioxin-laced component of Agent Orange — in Hearst, Ont., in 1957.
The documents, filed at the Archives of Ontario, describe how WWII-era Stearman biplanes were kitted with 140-gallon tanks containing the chemicals, which were usually diluted in a mix of fuel oil and water.
Less than 10 years later, the Department of Lands and Forests (now the Ministry of Natural Resources) authorized the use of a more potent mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T for aerial spraying. The combination of those two herbicides in equal parts comprised Agent Orange — the most widely used chemical in the Vietnam War.
Over the years, spraying was done by both the province and timber companies. Hundreds of forestry workers were involved, but the documents do not give an exact number.
After the Star presented its findings to the natural resources ministry — including copies of the government’s own records and research based on interviews with ailing forestry workers now scattered across Canada — a spokesperson said the government is investigating and has notified Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
“We can acknowledge that a mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T under various brand names were used in Ontario,” ministry spokesman Greg MacNeil wrote the Star in an email. Though he confirmed the use of a mixture known commonly as Agent Orange, MacNeil said the government never used a “product” called “Agent Orange.”
Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk, a world-renowned expert on Agent Orange, said the government is “throwing up a smokescreen.”
“There was no categorical brand called Agent Orange,” said Dwernychuk, who for more than 15 years conducted extensive research on the impact of toxic defoliants in Vietnam. “There was nothing coming out of any of the chemical companies in a barrel that had Agent Orange written on it. That’s laughable.
“If it’s got 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D as a mixture, it’s Agent Orange and it has dioxin — I guarantee it,” said Dwernychuk, who recently retired as chief scientist from Vancouver-based Hatfield Consultants.
Medical studies have determined the type of dioxin found in Agent Orange latches on to fat cells and can remain in the body for decades. Exposure may lead to skin disorders, liver problems, certain types of cancers and impaired immune, endocrine and reproductive functions.
Agent Orange may have been employed earlier than 1964 in Northern Ontario but the Star was told access to additional records is guarded by privacy legislation. The ministry said it does not have centralized spraying records prior to 1977 and suggested the newspaper “follow the procedures set up in the freedom of information act” to get a “complete picture of the data.”
The Star’s investigation exposes the first widespread use of these chemicals in Canada outside of a military spraying operation.
The Ministry of Natural Resources said it is working with the ministries of Health, Labour and Environment “to ensure this matter is thoroughly investigated and that worker health and safety is protected.”
The only other case on record of Agent Orange and other toxic defoliants being used en masse in Canada occurred in New Brunswick.
The U.S. military tested defoliants including Agent Orange at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in 1966 and 1967, according to a federal government inquiry that occurred 40 years later.
As of Dec. 22, 2010, the Canadian government has issued 3,137, $20,000 tax-free, compensation payments to people who lived or worked at CFB Gagetown during the years when spraying occurred and were diagnosed with of one of 12 medical conditions associated with exposure as identified by the Institute of Medicine. The federal government expects to approve thousands of additional applications for compensation before the June 30 deadline.
The U.S. military began spraying “hormone herbicides” like Agent Orange in South Vietnam in 1961.
Agent Orange was one of a rainbow of poisonous warfare chemicals that got its name from a band of colour painted on the barrels it was shipped in. The mixture itself was colourless.
“The U.S. military called it orange herbicide,” Dwernychuk said. “It was the American press that labelled it ‘Agent Orange’ because it was more sexy.”
The mixture ate through vast swaths of jungle, exposing Viet Cong strongholds.
Nearly 20,000 kilometres away in Northern Ontario, toxic herbicides were employed to disable a different kind of enemy.
The chemicals targeted what forestry reports described as “weed trees” — including birch, maple, poplar and shrubs — which stole sunlight and soil nutrients from young, profitable spruce species. The hormones in the defoliants caused the broad leaves on these weed trees to grow so quickly they starved to death.
In 1956, with the government’s blessing, Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company in Kapuskasing pioneered the aerial spraying of herbicides in Northern Ontario. The New York Times, which co-owned Spruce Falls with Kimberly-Clark and the Washington Star, printed its Sunday edition on black spruce, renowned for its tough fibres. (Tembec, a company that purchased Spruce Falls in 1991, did not respond to interview requests).
Aerial spraying programs were considered a cheap, fast and effective way to alter the landscape of Ontario’s forests for maximum profit. Timber companies and the government worked together to increase the output of money-making trees like white and black spruce while culling nearly everything else that got in their way.
In the mid-1960s, Spruce Falls held about 4 million acres of forest land under lease from the Ontario government and owned an additional 180,000 acres. The incomplete documents don’t provide a total number of acres sprayed
fter a bone marrow test confirmed he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Romanowich, who worked for Spruce Falls during the 1960s and 1970s, said his first thought was to track down former colleagues.
“My oncologist asked me about heavy exposure to herbicides before I mentioned my work at Spruce Falls,” said the retired maintenance manager who lives in the Niagara region. “There is no absolute confirmation of this type of exposure being the cause but a very strong correlation that should be taken seriously. I am fortunate in that I will now be monitored on a regular basis with CAT scans and blood tests to watch for the inevitable flare-ups that can be treated with chemotherapy.”
He wants others who worked on these spraying programs to have the same chance to receive thorough medical exams based on their exposure.
He contacted the Ministry of Natural Resources in October with no response until late last month, nearly four weeks after the Star began its own investigation.
The government records list the names of five supervisors who worked on spraying programs in Northern Ontario during the 1950s and 1960s. Four of the five have either been diagnosed with or died of cancer. Their job included mixing chemicals and standing in the fields supervising spray campaigns. Teenaged workers are also listed in the records and the Star is working to track them down.
One of them on the list, David Buchanan always wondered what was inside the 45-gallon oil drums he worked with as a 15-year-old at Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company in 1964.
“Even then, it didn’t seem right,” said Buchanan, now a 61-year-old dentist in Sackville, N.S., who has suffered from a series of illnesses doctors couldn’t diagnose. Body-covering hives. Persistent bouts of dizziness. A sperm count so low he couldn’t have children.
“I have had every test known to mankind,” he said.
“I often wondered if some of my symptoms were related to something that happened in my childhood.”
His job as a summer student was to hand-pump vats of brush-and-tree-killing chemicals into the airplane sprayer.
“We got soaked,” Buchanan said. “I can’t remember what we did with our clothes but we stayed in the bush camp during spraying for weeks on end.” He does recall wearing a black rubber apron, brown rubber gloves and rubber boots while mixing and pumping the chemicals.
One document from 1962 recommended keeping an extra supply of rubber balloons handy because “the balloons do deteriorate from the spray mixture.”
as a college student, Paul Fawcett, now 62, also worked on Spruce Falls’ aerial spraying program. He was a 21-year-old “balloon man” during the summer of 1969. His father Don worked for the ministry as a district forester in Kapuskasing.
There was no uniform, Fawcett said, just jeans and a shirt — usually long-sleeves because of mosquitoes and flies. He recalls being covered in a fine mist or droplets from the spray plane.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “We would walk from station to station with red helium-filled balloons on fishing lines and the planes would swoop down.”
He recalled researchers from University of Toronto dropping in on his camp to survey how much spray was getting to the ground.
“They had us lay down ridged, filter papers on the ground or brush while the plane sprayed. We laid them down in a row covering four or five feet.”
Fawcett, now a welder in Hamilton, said he never heard about the results of that study.
Government forestry documents refer to extensive studies that were being conducted on spraying programs at a research facility in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., but these reports are either missing or misfiled.
Fawcett, whose doctor recently ordered an ultrasound to look into bladder problems, said he had no idea he was working with anything toxic. Aside from the bladder issues, Fawcett said he feels fine.
“It did a good job — what we wanted it to do,” said Clifford Emblin, a former government forestry manager who oversaw chemical spraying programs. “They were using those chemicals in Vietnam, too, for defoliation. Yeah, it was the same stuff. I don’t think anybody knew about the long-term effects.”
The U.S. military stopped using Agent Orange in 1970 after a study for the National Institutes of Health showed that the dioxin-tainted 2,4,5-T caused birth defects in laboratory animals. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs now recognizes more than 50 diseases and medical conditios associated with exposure.
Emblin, a former district manager for the Hearst and Hornepayne areas during the 1960s, recalled one of his forestry employees throwing a fit after his truck got caught directly beneath a spray plane’s flight line.
“The truck got sprayed and the paint came off the truck,” Emblin said, chuckling.
Emblin said his ministry didn’t know it was using Agent Orange until “four or five years after we quit using it, I guess, in the 70s.
“We had five sawmills that were depending on the growth of the (spruce) forest in Hearst to make a living,” he said. “That’s why we were doing it. We managed the land and they paid.”
Diana Zlomislic can be reached by email at email@example.com
or by phone at 416-869-4472