Agent Orange evidence weak

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Perhaps Maj. Gen Bill Libby said it best: “There’s a lot we don’t know.”

That’s why we’d urge Maine soldiers who trained at a Canadian military base where chemical defoliants were used not to jump to any conclusions.

Agent Orange has become synonymous with a sad chapter in an even sadder war. It was sprayed over large areas of Vietnam to kill the thick jungle undergrowth where the enemy was thought to be hiding.

In some cases, it was sprayed on U.S. troops while they were in the field. In others, troops handled and breathed the chemical agents while loading planes. In some places, soldiers spent days and weeks living in areas that had been sprayed.

The results are still being felt 30 years later in thousands of cases of cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, type II diabetes and birth defects.

But the facts surrounding the spraying in Gagetown, New Brunswick, are far less compelling.

In the late 1960s, an 80-acre section of the massive base was used to test various “rainbow chemicals,” including Agent Orange.

The area sprayed is less .03 percent of the total area of a base larger than Baxter State Park, and it’s not known whether any Maine soldiers were even near that site.

Secondly, the first Maine soldiers arrived four years after the spraying occurred. Over that long a period, much of the active cancer-causing ingredients would have mixed with soil, been buried beneath new growth or washed away.

Third, relatively small quantities of the chemicals were used. For instance, 124 gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed. By comparison, some 19 million gallons were sprayed on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Finally, the Canadian military’s widespread testing of 1,200 locations at the base showed 99 percent to be safe, and the remaining 1 percent only marginally unsafe.

Already, about 20 former Maine soldiers have filed claims, saying their diabetes, cancer or other problems were caused by their service at Gagetown.

While that’s their right, we’d encourage other soldiers not to panic. As Maj. Gen. Libby said, there’s far too little information so far to justify that.

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