OROMOCTO, New Brunswick (AP) – Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, once a testing ground for the infamous war defoliant Agent Orange, has been given a clean bill of health.

Independent researchers hired by the federal government to study the impact of herbicide spraying at the sprawling New Brunswick base long used to train Maine National Guard troops have determined present-day levels of dixoin are too low to be of serious concern.

They also have found that U.S. military testing of such defoliants as Agent Orange and Agent Purple at remote areas of the base in 1966 and 1967 did not pose a threat to the long-term health of people involved in the program.

Col. Ryan Jestin, the base commander, reacted to the two reports by immediately lifting restrictions on access to three areas of the base where soil sampling had found higher-than-acceptable levels of dioxin, a toxic byproduct in the production of herbicides like Agent Orange.

“I intend to resume training in those areas,” Jestin said, adding that Gagetown is a “world-class training facility.”

Mary Mitchell, an official with Health Canada who attended the news conference to release the health reports, said there is no reason for people to be concerned about lingering effects from herbicide spraying at the base.

“The contractors have concluded that present-day levels of dioxins do not pose health concerns for people who work at Gagetown or for those who use the area for recerational purposes,” Mitchell said.

“The levels today are simply too low to have an effect.”

The Ontario-based firm, Dillon Consulting, and U.S.-based RBR Consulting, carried out the study on current impacts on the base, while Cantox Environmental from Ontario looked at the effect of the U.S. military tests in the mid-60s.

Although a peer review of the reports raised concerns about the objectivity of the findings, the federally appointed commission charged with getting to the bottom of the Agent Orange controversy is standing by the consultants.

People who are hoping to get compensation or military disability pensions as a result of their exposure to herbicide spraying at CFB Gagetown were disappointed with the results, and said their health was harmed by long-term exposure to herbicides.

“I think it’s all a whitewash,” said Art Connolly of the Agent Orange Association of Canada. “They (federal officials) are looking for ways to save money.”

The two reports are the first of several to examine health impacts from defoliant use at the New Brunswick base. More extensive reviews of all the sprays that have been used over several decades – and their impacts – will be coming in the fall and winter.

As well, there will be a study of fish in a lake and river on the base where the consultants could not rule out possible dioxin contamination.

Chemicals to clear brush have been used at the base – as they have across Canada – since the 1950s.

Many of the compounds were contaminated with a potent and highly toxic dioxin called 2,3,7,8-TCDD, which has been linked, at high exposures, to cancer, birth defects, immune system deficiencies and emotional problems.

Some U.S. military personnel involved in the Vietnam War have received compensation because of health concerns arising from the use of defoliants like Agent Orange.

But researchers looking at the Gagetown case say there is no comparison between the small, limited amounts tested at the New Brunswick base and the millions of gallons of herbicides applied in Vietnam over a long period of time.

Despite the latest health reports, veterans are being advised to continue trying to get pensions and compensation if they believe their health has suffered because of spray programs at Gagetown.

So far, five Gagetown veterans have been awarded military disability pensions because of dioxin-related illnesses.

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