ECOSPECTIVE: Londoner calls for inquiry into Gagetown Agent Orange
With the PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) issue still so fresh in everyone’s mind I thought this would be a good time to remind people that there have been other instances of public exposure to harmful chemicals, and at least one member of our community is trying to do something for those who were exposed to at least one of those toxins.
Art Connolly, is a resident of London, and has been actively attempting to raise people’s awareness of the dangers and effects of Agent Orange.
In 2005 the story broke of how the U.S. military had sprayed the CFB Gagetown area with Agent Orange in 1966 and 1967 and the possible health risks to the soldiers and their families who had been there at the time.
Connolly was watching this story on the news when his sister called to tell him his father’s health had deteriorated and he was not likely to live much longer.
Sitting in the hospital during the last few hours of his father’s life Connolly began to put the pieces together.
He and his family had lived on the base from 1957 to 69, His brother had died of Reyes at age 7, he’d lost a sister to a pulmonary embolism, she was 28, his mother had stomach cancer, and even his last remaining sister had reproductive issues.
With his father dying Connolly began to question if the time at CFB Gagetown was responsible.
When he returned home after the funeral he started a website called agentorangealert.com (see link) in a quest for answers – and answers he got.
The site received more than three million hits over the last thee years and within a short time it was discovered that the 66-67 spraying was only a small part of the problem. Documents found under the freedom to information act revealed that the Canadian military had been spraying the area since 1956, and the records showed regular spraying up till 1984 of chemical 24D and 245T. These are numeric terms for the components of Agent Orange, and contain dioxins.
From 1956 to 1984 1.3 million liters and 1 million kilograms of dry defoliating agent had been dropped on Gagetown to maintain a training area. The area for treatment was outlined by soldiers holding marker stakes, watching while the toxins rained down upon them.
One local civilian wrote to Connolly recalling how all the birds in her farmyard lay dead and quiet, in eerie similarity to the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, before she and her family were forced to move out of the area.
Over 450 000 Canadian troops passed through CFB Gagetown, exposing themselves and their families to the toxins distributed throughout the landscape. And while the spraying of 66-67 is being acknowledged, this provides for only 1% of the exposed personnel. The rest of the estimated 1 million people put at risk have not received recognition, much less an apology.
Connolly wants that apology and a full judicial public inquiry into what happened at Gagetown.
“This isn’t about money” Connolly said “it’s about those who dedicated their lives to serve the country, and now that they are sick the bureaucrats want nothing to do with them.
“I was never political Dan, until it hit home,” Connolly said.
He expects that an inquiry will find the reason it took until 2005 for the news to break, though the Cabinet was informed of a concern in 1985. He believes it will show negligent behaviour on the part of those in charge at the time.
The British Government has been prompted to action, in part by Connolly’s efforts. After Bill Dixon-Dodds of the Royal British Legion contacted Connolly for information, the British Government provided a pension and advanced healthcare to at least one soldier who’d been in Gagetown.
Connolly has spoken on this issue throughout the world including an eye opening conference in Hanoi, and he wants the citizens to express their outrage at the treatment of our soldiers.
He wants this sort of thing to end, and reminded me that we have a number of young troops in Afghanistan right now.
Connolly wants people to write to the military and the government and make sure our young soldiers today will not be left feeling betrayed, as he feels the veterans who passed through Gagetown have been.