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Use of Agent Orange is well-documented at Fort Detrick

Fort Detrick

By Megan Eckstein in the Frederick News-Post
Long before Fort Detrick hired a contractor to investigate its past use of Agent Orange on post, the fact that the Army did test the herbicide in Frederick was common knowledge.

The Frederick News-Post archives, government documents and Fort Detrick’s website all chronicle the Army post’s Vietnam-era testing of Agent Orange, a defoliant that has since been proven to cause cancers, Parkinson’s disease, skin conditions and more.

An April 8, 1967, news article by The Associated Press states that “research headquarters for the U.S. (chemical and biological warfare) program is Ft. Detrick É it has a 1967 budget estimated at $38 million.”

“In one distant corner of the base lies the crop division with its four large greenhouses where research is done on the defoliants and herbicides now used in Vietnam,” the article continues.

A Dec. 13, 1972, News-Post story elaborates. It said Fort Detrick’s Vegetation Control Division was given a January 1973 deadline to demilitarize, in accordance with President Richard Nixon’s orders that the United States would no longer research or produce chemical and biological weapons.

“The VCD, by that date, will have disposed of a stockpile of biological anticrop agents the size of which is still a classified subject,” the article stated. “The demilitarization project is a significant change in direction for the facility that produced three of the major defoliants used by this country in the Vietnam War. Instead of developing more herbicides, like ‘agent orange’ — which tends to activate the plant’s growth process to the extent that it ‘grows to death,’ or like ‘blue and white’ — which is absorbed by and kills back the growing tips of victimized plants, the VCD is now studying ways to defoliate plants without killing them.”

The 1972 article continues, “the VCD has screened some 31,000 chemical compounds since the unit was established at Fort Detrick in 1946.”

Fort Detrick spokesman Rob Sperling said the Army post had hired a contractor to investigate the details of its previous Agent Orange testing: “if it was done, where it was done, how much, under what conditions,” he said.

Sperling said Fort Detrick was not aware of the Agent Orange testing before Randy White and his Fighting for Frederick group revealed it at a July 10 meeting.

“When it came up, we said, ‘we don’t know anything about this,’ so we started looking at it,” he said. “It caught us off guard. But there’s so much here, the things that went on 50, 60 years ago, most of us weren’t even alive.”

Sperling said he did not know who the contractor was, how long the contract was for and how much money the Army paid for the investigation.

Though detailed accounts of the chemical compounds used at Fort Detrick may not be publicly available, some information about Agent Orange is on Fort Detrick’s own website, in a chronology of the post called Cutting Edge.

“Extensive field testing was done to assess the effectiveness of agents on crops,” the website reads, quoting from a 1977 report to Congress titled “U.S. Army Activities in the U.S. Biological Warfare Program, Volume II.” “This set the stage for two such anticrop agents becoming center stage in the media in 1978. Of particular concern was an agent identified as 2,4,5-T, or trichlorophenoxyacetic acid. This was one of the major components of what became known as Agent Orange. It was an effective defoliant used during the Vietnam War. However, it was tested in its purest form at Fort Detrick in controlled laboratory tests,” the Cutting Edge says.

“Incineration of agent and containers was just one step in the decontamination process in disposing of anticrop agent in 1972,” the website continues. “A highly toxic agent, dioxin, began appearing as a by-product of the manufacturing process and is blamed by many as the cause of physical ailments seen in many Vietnam veterans.”

View the original article at Veterans Today

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