Thursday, June 23, 2005

But hazard this prognostication

Hmmmm: "Military accused of lying about Agent Orange." An angry crowd accused military officials of a coverup during a hearing into the spraying of Agent Orange and other defoliants at a New Brunswick military base in the 1950s and 1960s. Glen Stewart, of the Royal Canadian Legion, raised fears that rates of cancer and other illnesses are abnormally high around CFB Gagetown. Officials from the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada and Canadian Forces Base Gagetown tried to downplay health hazards at the first public briefing on the issue in more than 30 years. The hearing at the base on Thursday followed a CBC News report that revealed Agent Purple, considered three times more toxic than the cancer-linked Agent Orange, was also sprayed on the base in 1966. I caught part of the hearing on Newsworld during my workout. While undoubtedly those directly exposed should be concerned, there seemed to be a fair number of speakers who by their age couldn't possibly have worked on or lived near CFB Gagetown during the several years in question - and more than one invoked the fact that Agent Orange was used in Vietnam as an argument in itself, which the current base commander, speaking, (rightly) ignored. Interestingly, I also see no mention in this CBC article of his pointing out that the components of Agent Orange - 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, were both available and used in civilian products at the time as well. It's true that we now know some pesticides herbicides to have very unpleasant long-term side effects outweighing the benefits of their use. But the fact that 2,4-D was used in Vietnam has exactly no impact on the matter, beyond suggesting that its use as a defoliant was (and is) widespread and considered effective, and thus a natural choice for high-volume military use. This isn't a military conspiracy, and especially not an American military conspiracy, as some in the audience seemed to be darkly implying; invoking the talisman of VIETNAM!! as shorthand for all American wrongs real and imagined isn't helpful. That many may be suffering from the long-term effects of exposure from spraying near Gagetown is unfortunate, but can be chalked up to institutional ignorance, without benefit of coverup accusations. However, the accusers would do well to, y'know, make sure first: Like many in the audience, Stewart expressed fear that rates of cancer and other illnesses were abnormally high around the base. "I am very confident that you will find that the death rate from various types of illnesses, including cancer, is higher in this area than it is in any other place in Canada," Stewart said. "Very confident?" As in, no studies, no statistics, just fear and loathing snowballing into panic? There's anecdotal evidence, yes... A woman recounted her father's memories of becoming coated with the spray after being asked to watch the spraying operation from a hill. She blamed the spraying for premature pregnancies in her family, including her mother's 13 miscarriages. But unless multiple miscarriages are endemic in the affected area, blaming the spraying can't be a 100% certainty. A possibility, yes; but not a certainty that allows for coverup accusations. And it's a pretty poor coverup that's promising to investigate claims and provide compensation to those legitimately found affected: [Defence and Veterans' Affairs officials] urged people who think exposure hurt them or their relatives to apply for disability pensions. The Canadian military is already paying compensation in two cases connected to the spraying. [...] The Defence Department has now received 300 compensation claims and more than 400 inquiries. Ellis said each one would be evaluated fairly, with soldiers getting "the benefit of the doubt." I'm convinced the military has acted in good faith throughout the spraying incident and subsequent inquiries. Media hysterics spurring on the more panicky members of the civilian community nearby, now...


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6/03/2007 11:34:00 AM  

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