Beginning as early as 1943, the US military began to test various chemicals to be used to control vegetation. In 1943, they enlisted the University of Chicago to study various applications of herbicides, including 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. Starting in 1944, the military began testing the use of herbicides (though not yet 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D) against tropical foliage in Florida. In the 1950s, the Department of the Army Chemical Corps at Ft Detrick, MD, began to develop herbicide formulations and spray equipment in the event they would be needed for the Korean conflict. Spray equipment and herbicides were stored at Guam, but never used during the war.
“The dioxin was in the dirt. I think maybe that was his exposure.”
– Saginaw resident Alice Buchalter, on her husband who died from gardening, Chicago Tribune, 2009.
Throughout the 50s and early 60s, testing of herbicides continued to be conducted in Florida, California, Indiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Montana, Maryland, North Dakota, Utah, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, and New York. Most of the early tests were targeted against crops, though spraying of foliage became the focus as Vietnam entered more and more into the picture. In 1959, in Camp Drum, NY, 1,035 acres of sugar maples and other hardwoods were sprayed in a test to see how effective the herbicides were against foliage. By the early 1960s, formulations of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D had been developed to be used for defoliation, and organic arsenicals to be used for crop destruction. In addition, spray equipment had been adapted to enable aerial spraying at controlled rates and concentrations.
Throughout the 1960s, testing of herbicides, particularly of combinations of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, took place in Florida, Hawaii, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. In addition, overseas testing was conducted in Canada, Korea, Puerto Rico, India and Thailand.
Eglin Air Force Base, FL The center for US testing of herbicides was Eglin AFB on the Florida Panhandle. For ten years during 1961–71, 222,530 liters of herbicides (Agents Purple, Orange, White and Blue) were sprayed at a test grid on the base. These herbicides were estimated to contain at least 3.1 kg of dioxin. Soil sampling at the test site conducted in 1970–1987 confirmed that there was TCDD contamination, though only about 1% remained. Researchers theorized that much of the dioxin was broken down in the hot Florida sun or relocated due to wind or water erosion. At the storage and loading site west of the airstrip, residual dioxin was also found. Mitigation efforts were conducted, including the construction of a concrete drainage ditch and the building of a sediment pond to keep the dioxin from migrating into the nearby ravine and water bodies that lead to the city of Ft Walton Beach water supply. In 2001, the area around Hardstand 7 was capped with concrete and remediation activities concluded.
Gagetown, New Brunswick, CA Between December 1966 and October 1967, the US military tested Agent Orange, Purple and Blue and other herbicides at the Gagetown military base. The base has been used by Canadian forces as well as American National Guard and Reserve forces from the New England area for many decades. Canadian military and civilians who were on or near Gagetown have claimed that their health has been impacted by exposure to the dioxin. In 2007, the Canadian government announced a $95.6 million compensation package for Canadians exposed to the dioxin in 1966 and 1967; about 4500 of the exposed were eligible to receive a lump sum of $20,000 each. Not satisfied that this was sufficient, more than 3000 became part of a class action lawsuit which has been slowly working its way through Canadian courts. In May 2010, the Court of Appeals decertified the class, requiring plaintiffs to file individual suits.
Puerto Rico From 1956 to 1957 and then again from 1966-1968, the US Department of Defense conducted tests of 2,,4,5-T, 2,4-D and many other herbicides in Puerto Rico. Most tests were conducted in the area of Mayaguez in the western half of the island.
In the first few years of testing the use of herbicide in Vietnam, the herbicides were shipped out of the Port of Oakland in northern California. Once the program became active, the herbicides were shipped from the ports of New Orleans, Baltimore and Seattle until 1966. Between 1966 and the end of Ranch Hand, they were shipped primarily out of the port of Mobile, AL, although beginning in 1968, the barrels were also shipped from the Outport of Gulfport, MS. The chemical companies would ship the 55 gallon barrels of herbicides by rail to the Port, where they were transferred to pallets and then loaded onto the cargo ships. While waiting for transit, the barrels were stored at the Port of Mobile or at the Seabees base in Gulfport, MS.
Gulfport, MS After the herbicide program was cancelled in Vietnam, the remaining drums of herbicides were shipped to the Seabees base in Gulfport and stored there until 1977. During the nearly 10 years, the barrels stored at Gulfport experienced frequent leaks and spills, while some of the barrels were so deteriorated they had to be re-drummed. In April 1977, 15,470 barrels (or 3.2 million liters) of herbicides were removed from their drums and put into rail tank cars to be transported and then loaded onto the incinerator ship the M/T Vulcanus. The empty barrels were rinsed with diesel fuel and then crushed. The barrels were sold to a smelter and the wooden pallets buried in a National Space and Technology landfill in Bay Saint Louis, MS. The storage of the herbicides at Gulfport left behind TCDD in the storage site and smaller but detectible levels of TCDD were found in the sediment of the drainage ditches outside the base. From May 1987-February 1989, the contaminated soil on the base was removed and incinerated at high temperatures to destroy the dioxin. In 1991, the ash from the incineration process and an additional 62,000 cubic meters of soil and sediment were mixed with concrete and layered over the former herbicide storage area in order to reduce leaching of dioxin into the drainage system.
Johnston Island, Pacific A total of 25,220 drums of Agent Orange that remained in Vietnam after the end of the spray program were shipped to Johnston Island in the Pacific in April 1972. They were stored there until they were emptied and loaded onto the M/T Vulcanus, and destroyed at sea in 1977. The soil on the storage site was treated using an on-site thermal desorption technology between June 2003 and March 2004.
Saginaw, MI, 22 miles downstream from Midland, MI.
by Jack Doyle
by Robert Allen
by Arnold SChecter and Thomas A. Gasiewicz