A new list of military locations where Agent Orange and other herbicides were used and stored provides far more information about the presence of those chemicals across the United States, including Eglin Air Force Base, than had previously been available through the Department of Defense.
Eglin, which maintains its own records on where Agent Orange and other herbicides were used and stored on the base, had no significant disagreements with the expanded list.
Agent Orange and other color-coded herbicides — tested at Eglin for the efficacy of spray equipment, spray patterns and other technical considerations — were used by U.S. forces in Veitnam from 1961 to 1971 to defoliate vegetation that provided cover to enemy personnel and to kill food crops.
The expanded information now available is important in terms of veterans seeking to make disability claims through the Department of Veterans Affairs because it provides a more complete picture of where they might have been exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides during their military service.
“This update was necessary to improve accuracy and communication of information,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in written comments on the updated list, which the VA helped to prepare.
According to the VA, veterans exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during service may be eligible for a variety of VA benefits, including a health exam, health care and disability compensation for diseases associated with exposure. Those veterans’ dependents and survivors also may be eligible for benefits.
“VA depends on DoD to provide information regarding in-service environmental exposure for disability claims based on exposure to herbicides outside of Vietnam,” Wilkie added in the VA’s news release.
Of course, those VA services won’t necessarily be available to civilians who worked with contractors on the testing of Agent Orange and other lesser known herbicides, as was the case at Eglin in the 1960s.
An effort to help those civilians is developing, as Santa Rosa Beach attorney Rusty Sanders and upstate New York attorney Victor Yannacone work to find a law firm with significant resources to help with a federal lawsuit they have already drafted on behalf of Eglin’s civilian workers.
Yannacone argued the case of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange that led to a $180 million settlement in 1984. Like that lawsuit, the action being pursued on behalf of the Eglin civilian workers would target manufacturers, including Monsanto, Dow, Diamond Shamrock and others, along with the contractors.
Sanders could not be reached recently to comment on the status of the proposed lawsuit.
With regard to the updated list, the new compilation details 17 periods of time between November 1952 and December 1969 when herbicide testing was done at Eglin. With one exception, those time periods routinely stretched beyond a single day.
The list, made available late last month as part of a DoD news release, is significantly expanded from a 2003 DoD-compiled list. That list, assembled by an unidentified DoD employee in response to a congressional inquiry about the use of Vietnam-era herbicides in the United States, provided only the barest sketch of the presence of those herbicides at Eglin and elsewhere.
The 2003 accounting includes only three references to Eglin. According to that report, in November and December of 1952, two chemical components of Agent Orange were used to test what was then a prototype large-capacity sprayer for use in aircraft.
A second entry in the 2003 listing specifically mentions the use of the C-52A test area from 1962 to 1970 for the testing of Agents Orange (1962-68), Purple (1962-68), White (1967-70) and Blue (1968-70).
The only other mention of Eglin in the 2003 listing covers the period from June 11, 1968, to Sept. 12, 1968, when the Army tested how herbicides sprayed from the air would spread in relation to the size of the herbicide droplets.
The updated list of herbicide storage and use is the result of a federal Government Accountability Office review ordered by the U.S. House of Representatives in connection with the 2018 defense spending and policy bill.
In a November 2018 report, the GAO noted that the official DoD list of herbicide testing and storage locations, as posted on the Department of Veterans Affairs website at that time, was “inaccurate and incomplete.”
“Also,” the report notes, “the list has not been updated in over a decade, though DoD and VA have obtained reports on its shortcomings since 2006.”
As noted, Eglin officials do not have any substantial disagreements with the list recently published in the DoD report, according to base spokesman Mike Spaits.
“Most of the listings in the VA report are related to Range C52/C52A, which are captured within our DP-09 and SS-25 sites (on the eastern side of the Eglin range),” Spaits said. “SS-25 is a large test grid and DP-09 is an adjacent area (both east of Niceville and north of Choctaw Bay) where drums were disposed of and subsequently removed.”
However, there are some discrepancies, according to Spaits.
“We have no knowledge of an area identified as ‘Bombing Range 57’,” which was listed as a spray site in November and December of 1952 in the VA report, he said.
And, Spaits noted, a VA listing of a spray tank evaluation conducted in March and April of 1953 does not list a specific site where the reported spraying occurred, so the base can’t comment on that entry.
There is some difference between the VA timeline and Eglin’s timeline for herbicide testing. Where the VA report indicates that some herbicide testing occurred in 1952 and 1953, Spaits said Eglin’s documentation “indicates herbicide testing in the early 1960s to around 1970.”
That end date of testing tracks with both the initial DoD report, which indicated that testing continued through 1970, and the latest report, which lists Dec. 5, 1969, as a final testing date at Eglin.
According to Spaits, the base maintains documents covering environmental investigations of sites identified during previous extensive records searches. Those documents, Spaits said, “include all areas that could have potentially resulted in a release to the environment.”
According to Spaits, four areas on Eglin that were investigated for the presence of herbicides including Agent Orange became “IRP sites.” IRP is the acronym for Installation Restoration Program, a DoD environmental cleanup plan that began in 1975 to address contamination from various hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants.
“The areas investigated that became IRP Sites related to herbicides are DP-09, SS-25, SS-26, and LF-51,” Spaits said. As shown on the map accompanying this story, the DP-09 and SS-25 sites are east of Niceville and north of Choctaw Beach, while the SS-26 and LF-51 sites are each a short distance east of Eglin runways on the main part of the base.
“There were other areas that were evaluated and determined to not have any issues, so they did not move forward to becoming an actual ‘site,’ or they became a site and then were closed after additional investigation confirmed that there were no contaminants present,” Spaits said.
In all, nine sites on Eglin — four on the main base and five on the ranges — had some sort of historical investigation done in connection with the presence of herbicides, according to Spaits. Of those, five — two on the main base and three on the ranges — became IRP sites “due to the presence or possible presence of herbicide constituents,” according to Spaits and maps of the base denoting those areas.
A number of the herbicide sites at Eglin not already cleared through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are still being monitored, Spaits said, to help ensure that no improper land use occurs on them.
Those tracts, all of which have land-use controls placed on them, are inspected regularly, Spaits said. Sites on the main base are visually inspected quarterly, while sites on the ranges get an annual visual inspection, he said. The results of those inspections are reported annually to the FDEP, Spaits said. None of the sites require groundwater monitoring, he added.
Beyond the regular visual monitoring, land use controls are the only ongoing herbicide remediation efforts at Eglin, Spaits said.
“Land Use Controls are the final remedial actions approved by the FDEP and EPA,” he said.
Whatever herbicides were sprayed at Eglin, and whenever they were sprayed, those areas remain within the confines of the Eglin reservation, according to Spaits.
“There is no documentation indicating areas where these materials were stored or used and have since been sold to private parties,” Spaits said.
The use of Agent Orange was banned in the United States in 1971. Stockpiles, including whatever supplies remained at Eglin at the time, were taken to Johnston Atoll, a U.S.-controlled island several hundred miles east of Hawaii. The stockpile was destroyed in 1978.
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