07 April 2011

NIH Offers Their Thoughts about C-123K Aircrew & Agent Orange

(received from NIH via electronic mail, June 10, 2011). We're grateful for her response, but had hoped for something more supportive on the specific issue of whether being in an Agent Orange-contaminated aircraft would likely have resulted in exposure to dioxin. The best I can figure is that her letter explains that dioxin comes from various sources and the exposure from contaminated UC-123K aircraft is uncertain...even though we simply asked whether there was a likelihood of exposure, not what the contribution of that exposure to "body burdens of dioxins in this population" might mean. The VA requires exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin to be established and the NIH response carefully avoids any position on this.

I am especially disappointed because Dr. Binbaum has a great reputation for being so passionate about the risks to the public of TCDD!

Dear Wesley T. Carter, Major USAF Retired:

We would like to thank you for clarifying your request for our comments on the issues related to dioxin exposures of crewmembers of the Air Force C-123/UC-123K aircraft.  We have focused on the issue of potential Agent Orange and dioxin exposure of the crewmembers.  Human exposures to dioxins occur through contamination of our food, air, soil and dust.  The proportion of exposure from a particular route or source is situation dependent.  For the general population, dietary exposure due to microcontamination of the food supply with dioxins is the predominant route.  There are instances, particularly occupational, where human exposure and body burdens are influenced and increased above background due to contact with dust or contaminated surfaces.  In the case of the crewmembers of the Air Force C-123/UC-123K aircraft, there may have been occupational exposures to dioxins from contaminated surfaces.    However, the extent of this exposure and its contribution to body burdens of dioxins in this population is uncertain. 


National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
& National Toxicology Program

From: Wes Carter [rustysilverwings@gmail.com]
Sent: Friday, June 10, 2011 11:25 AM
To: Birnbaum, Linda (NIH/NIEHS) [E]
Subject: Doctor Bimbaum's letter re: Air Force Aircrews and Agent Orange
2349 NW Nut Tree Lane
McMinnville OR 97128
June 10, 2011

Dr. Linda S. Bimbaum, Director
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences & Nat’l Toxicology Program

Dear Doctor Bimbaum,

Thank you so very much for the courtesy of your response to my request for help regarding Agent Orange exposure by crewmembers of the Air Force C-123/UC-123K aircraft, first used for spraying Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. I certainly appreciate and respect the caution with which you worded your letter…it most certainly is a worrisome issue and I find nothing in your letter with which to disagree.

But, fortunately for veterans of the Vietnam War itself, the Department of Veterans Affairs has resolved any controversy by simply establishing, in accord with law, recognition of the Vietnam veterans’ exposure, however theoretical or hypothetical. They have, in accordance with the law, assigned the principal decision making about Agent Orange exposure to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and have with NAS determined that a specific list of illness (“Agent Orange presumptives”) receive service connection should a veteran contract that illness. Thus, we do not approach you or NIH for any policy decision or research conclusion.

Our hope in turning to you was not to address the issue of whether Agent Orange was harmful or not, nor whether veterans exposed to dioxin and other toxins on Agent Orange directly caused any veterans’ specific illness. The law frees us from that struggle, thank goodness! Neither do we even have to show abnormally high dioxin blood concentrations, as the Department of Veterans Affairs merely asks a veteran to show exposure, and to evidence one of the recognized “presumptives” such as prostate cancer or ALS.

What we seek…what we earnestly implore of you, is a far simpler response: if the Air Force tests have shown the aircraft “heavily contaminated and “extremely dangerous” (in the words of the reports and the Air Force officers who received them) in accord with the reports we’ve already sent you, is it reasonable to state that it is as likely as not that the veteran aviators have been exposed to those contaminants? I am a humble history teacher who ended up in a flight suit for 26 years, but it makes sense to me. If I were around flower pollen, touching it and breathing it suspended in the air of a confined airspace such as an aircraft, I think I’d end up with some pollen in and on me. 

I also feel that is a reasonable and logical conclusion regarding the contaminants left in our planes which we flew for ten years and in which we spent thousands of hours. May I have a simple sentence in agreement or disagreement with this?

Alternately, it would be as effective to state that in your opinion, having read the Air Force test results and the description of the C-123/UC-123 as “heavily contaminated” and “extremely dangerous”, that you would not like to fly in it for ten years and work in it for thousands of hours because of an obvious concern for dioxin exposure. It is too late for us and for our flight nurses…our duty placed us aboard those airplanes for a decade, flying cargo and aeromedical evacuation missions all over the world, and we have experienced what exposures there were, good or bad. That was our duty, nobody knew the situation at the time, but they do now, and we need to give the VA a simple conclusion…we were in an airplane the Air Force itself states was heavily contaminated, and thereby were exposed (or in the VA’s precise wording, “were as likely to as not”) to dioxin. Then they will treat our guys if the specific illnesses are present.

Forgive me if I’ve already sent them to you, but attached are a couple Air Force test results showing the dioxin testing, the press release showing the military had to melt the remaining airplanes into scrap metal ingots because no economical way of decontamination was identified, and a conclusion prepared by the Oregon Health Sciences University in which they did conclude in our favor.

I apologize for turning to you again when you’ve already spent a good deal of time in carefully considering our request. I ask that you narrow our request to the simple issue as I raised it above…that would be all we need to get medical care, and it would not mean NIH establishing policy, not debating rights or wrongs…nothing except a simple answer. And it is not a trick question.

Your suggestion that we turn to our Air Force doctors is a good one which we can’t do. We’re retired and most of us now on Social Security…the Air Force won’t even examine a retiree for Agent Orange exposure. They tell us to turn to the VA. The VA says for us to prove we’ve been exposed to Agent Orange. Somehow I hear in this circle of indecision a new chapter being typed for “Catch 22” by Joseph Heller! Please help us have our chapter turn out okay, won’t you?

Again my thanks.  Help if you can.


Wesley T. Carter, Major USAF Retired

-----Original Message-----
From: Birnbaum, Linda (NIH/NIEHS) [E] <birnbaumls@niehs.nih.gov>
To: rustysilverwings@gmail.com <rustysilverwings@gmail.com>
Sent: Thu, Jun 9, 2011 3:08 pm
Subject: Response to Agent Orange Exposure Concerns
Dear Sirs:

Please see the attached letter of response to your concerns about exposure to Agent Orange and dioxins in service personnel, that was sent to NIH-Listens.

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