FINALLY AFTER ALMOST 30 YEARS
Ontario Agent Orange probe finally arrives
Now-notorious chemical mix used by forestry and hydro workers in decades past.
NDP MPP Gilles Bisson says the government is trying to avoid public scrutiny of the report.
By: Diana Zlomislic News reporter, Published on Thu Jun 13 2013
On Thursday morning, the provincial government will release the long-awaited results of an investigation into Ontario’s widespread use of a notorious herbicide that has been linked to birth defects, various forms of cancer and skin disorders.
The probe was commissioned in March, 2011 after aToronto Star investigation revealed that forestry and hydro workers were ordered to use a chemical mix now commonly known as Agent Orange to clear large plots of land across the province from the 1950s to the 1980s.
The Star tracked down hundreds of government-archived documents that illustrated the province’s historic use of the powerful herbicide.
In Kapuskasing, Ont., teenage “balloon boys” employed by logging companies guided low-flying spray planes with helium-inflated red rubber sacs. The boys’ job was to point out the areas where less-profitable “weed trees” like birch, maple and poplar grew so the areas could be defoliated to make room for more lucrative spruce. They got soaked in the process. The Star spoke with dozens of former hydro and forestry workers who, decades after handling the potent chemicals, found themselves sterile, suffering from hard-to-treat skin conditions or cancers.
Don Romanowich lead some of those timber crews in the 1960s and 1970s.
He’s 66 now and has spent the past few years of retirement tracking down ex-colleagues to alert them to what they may have been exposed to.
“They just quietly stopped using it,” said Romanowich, who is now living with stage-four follicular cancer, a type of lymphoma his oncologist linked to herbicide exposure. “What disturbs me the most is . . . there were people in serious positions of responsibility who understood what we were using and they said nothing.”
Hydro’s own records, obtained by the Star, boast that in one 12-year period, the power company dropped enough chemicals in Ontario to cut a 30-metre-wide swath travelling “four-fifths the distance around the world.”
Romanowich said he gave up hope the report would surface until Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti called him yesterday morning to assure it would be made public on Thursday at 11 a.m.
“I had tears over it,” Romanowich said, noting the report was supposed to be released last summer before being put off after the chair of the fact-finding panel reported his research yielded “thousands of records spanning more than four decades.”
Orazietti had received a “high-level briefing” on the contents of the report a few weeks ago, a spokesperson told the Star.
NDP MPP Gilles Bisson, whose Timmins office has fielded calls from workers concerned about potential exposure, criticized Orazietti’s timing — just several days after legislature has broken for the summer. It’s an attempt to “avoid public scrutiny,” Bisson said.
The independent committee was mandated to examine where, when and how much 2,4,5-T — the primary herbicide in Agent Orange — was used in the province by government ministries and agencies. It looked at the use of the herbicide alone and mixed with other chemicals and their health impact.
Agent Orange gained notoriety during the 1960s for its use by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, when it was used to clear jungles to expose enemy territory. The colourless mixture got its name from a stripe painted on the containers it came in. Its use was discontinued in 1971 after scientists found it contained dioxin, which causes severe health problems.
“There was no categorical brand called Agent Orange,” explained Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk, noting it was nothing more than a mix of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. For more than 15 years, he conducted extensive research on the impact of the chemical mix in Vietnam.
Dwernychuk is looking forward to hearing the results of the Ontario probe. He described committee member Jeanne Stellman, a public health expert from New York’s Columbia University, as a “pillar in the Agent Orange fight for justice.”
The committee was chaired by Dr. Len Ritter, a leading Canadian toxicology expert who assisted the federal government’s 2006-2007 investigation into the use of 2,4,5-T at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, where U.S. military conducted Canada-approved spraying exercises. The Gagetown inquiry resulted in the federal government paying roughly 5,000 Canadians more than $100 million in total compensation.
Read more about: Agent Orange
Star Exclusive: Agent Orange “soaked” Ontario teens
Cancer-causing toxins used to strip the jungles of Vietnam were also employed to clear massive plots of Crown land in Northern Ontario.
GLENN LOWSON / TORONTO STAR
Don Romanowich has been diagnosed with a type of cancer common in people exposed to harmful herbicides.
By: Diana Zlomislic Staff Reporter, Published on Thu Feb 17 2011
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 theToronto 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 theStar 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 conditionsassociated 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.
After 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 conditions
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 416-869-4472
The Government Criminals involved in this and all others – corporate criminals should all be brought to swift severe Justice for this Despicable Crime against all Citizens of Ontario and Canada
Agent Orange hotline set up
The province has set up a new Agent Orange hotline to field concerns and questions from people who may have been exposed to the toxic herbicides.
By: Diana Zlomislic Staff Reporter, Published on Tue Feb 22 2011
The province has set up a new Agent Orange hotline to field concerns and questions from people who may have been exposed to toxic herbicides in Ontario during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
Minister of Natural Resources Linda Jeffrey said Tuesday she will also create an “independent fact-finding panel” to probe the government’s use of Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides on Crown land.
The initiatives come less than a week after a Toronto Star investigation revealed that the same cancer-causing toxins used to strip jungles and expose Viet Cong troops during the Vietnam War were also employed by the Ontario government and timber companies to clear massive plots of Crown land.
Spraying reports obtained by the Star revealed that high school students and junior rangers acted as human markers for the ministry and timber companies in Northern Ontario. They would hold red, helium-filled balloons on fishing lines while low-flying airplanes sprayed thousands of gallons of the chemical cocktail.
The chemicals were designed to kill what forestry reports called “weed trees” — including birch and poplar. Timber companies and the ministry wanted to promote the growth of the commercially viable spruce tree in Northern Ontario, which meant killing most everything else that competed for soil nutrients and sunlight.
Government records filed at the Archives of Ontario showed the province began experimenting with a powerful herbicide called 2,4,5-T — the dioxin-laced component of Agent Orange — as early as 1957 in Hearst, Ont. Less than 10 years later, the ministry authorized the use of a more potent mix of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T for use in aerial spraying. The combination of those two herbicides in equal parts comprised Agent Orange — the most widely used toxin in the Vietnam War.
Exposure to this chemical cocktail has been associated with more than 50 diseases and medical conditions by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs.
The Star has received hundreds of calls and emails from former forestry workers and residents of towns affected by toxic aerial spraying.
Many wonder if the chemicals they were exposed to decades ago are responsible for their low-sperm count, multiple miscarriages, cancers or curious growths covering their bodies.
Minister Jeffrey said she has notified Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
The ministry is creating an internal “herbicide spray program project team” that will lead the cross-government investigation, Jeffrey said Tuesday. The ministries of Environment and Labour have also been asked to co-operate with the probe.
At the moment, Jeffrey said she has no idea how many people may have been affected by the spraying.
“I couldn’t hazard a guess,” she said. “I think the trouble is there were a lot of summer students hired and it is hard to know . . . and there a lot of old paper records. We are still trying to collect that information.”
With files from Tanya Talaga
For More Information
A toll-free number will be available starting Tuesday afternoon for anyone who has concerns about potential exposure to herbicides during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The toll-free number is 1-888-338-3364.
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has provided an updated contact number for employee questions about potential work-related illnesses due to herbicide exposure. The new number is 1-800-387-0750. Press 1 for English or 2 for French; 1 to enter the direct line and then the extension 4163444440.
Callers into this number may have to leave a message for their call to be returned if the line is busy. Calls will be returned within one business day.
Information about these numbers and the Ministry of Natural Resource’s progress on this issue will continue to be posted on the ministry’s website at www.mnr.gov.on.ca.
Exposure to Herbicides May Cause the Following Affliction
TYPES OF CANCER WITH NO TIME REQUIREMENTS FOR MANIFESTATION
Cancer of the bronchus
Cancer of the larynx
Cancer of the trachea
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
TYPES OF SOFT TISSUE SARCOMA WITH NO TIME
REQUIREMENTS FOR MANIFESTATION
Alveolar Soft Part Sarcoma
Clear Cell Sarcoma of Aponeuroses
Clear Cell Sarcoma of Tendons and
Epithelioid Malignant Leiomyosarcoma
Epithelioid and Glandular Malignant
Extraskeletal Ewing’s Sarcoma
Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma
Malignant Giant Cell Tumor of the
Malignant Glandular Schwannoma
Malignant Glomus Tumor
Malignant Granular Cell Tumor
Malignant Schwannoma with Rhabdomyoblastic Differentiation
DISEASES OTHER THAN CANCER WITH VARIOUS TIME REQUIREMENTS
Periperal neuropathy (acute or subacute)
Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
DISEASES OTHER THAN CANCER WITH NO TIME REQUIREMENT FOR MANIFESTATION
Type 2 Diabetes (Also known as Diabetes Mellitus)
DISABILITIES IN CHILDREN OF VIETNAM VETERANS
Spina Bifida,Certain Birth Defects in Children of VN Veterans