24 August 2011

New Discovery - 1979 Toxins Test on Patches - ACFT 362

Thanks to Prof. Jeanne Stellman of Columbia University, yesterday a newly-found document dating back to 1979 was released dealing with what seems to be the first known testing of Patches for contamination. As everyone knows, Patches was a stinker to fly...summer or winter, the dang thing smelled terrible! Many crew complaints in the period 1972-1979 and the difficulty getting crews to fly the aircraft up to scheduling expectations led AFMC to conduct an in-place examination for Agent Orange and other possible contamination...mostly, though, to simply STOP THE STINK!

Conducted in March of 1979 and written up in September 1979 by Staff Sergeant William Conway and approved by the commander of the Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory, Report 79-59 summarized a request by the 439MAW clinic to investigate "Herbicide Orange and Malathion contamination". It reported the contamination present ("a black, viscous, odorous residue") but in amounts low enough not to be considered possible health hazards...and this was in consideration of 1979 levels of what constituted hazardous mounts. It notes the assignment of Patches to the 731st TAS in November 1972 as well as the airplane's use in Vietnam from 1965 until 1972 with the 12th Special Operations Squadron, spraying Malathion and Agent Orange.

The 1979 report also mentions a 1975 examination of residue taken from the airplane completed while the airplane was in depot maintenance at Dothan, AL.

Here's what is confusing: tests done in 1994 did show Agent Orange contamination. In fact, "heavily contaminated" was the summary of the analysis prepared by the Air Force using testing equipment twenty years more sophisticated!

The answer to this seeming contradiction was provided by Professor Stellman, who noted that the report looked for AGENT ORANGE and not dioxin, its poisonous component. Professor Stellman writes us:
The report does not measure TCDD (dioxin) - only the herbicides themselves, which would be expected to be much more volatile and dissipate much more rapidly than the TCDD - so there is no contradiction.
Thus, the 1994 report which examined Patches for dioxin contamination stands as accurate! Heavily contaminated! And so were the aircrews who flew her 1972-1982. Further, in the years after Vietnam it dawned on the scientists and medical professionals that any level of measurable dioxin was unsafe...if it was detectable in any concentration it was too contaminated for safety of those around it, and there is no question, after the decades of testing between 1994 and the final destruction of the fleet in 2010, that the C-123K/UC-123K aircraft were "extremely contaminated, extremely hazardous, extremely dangerous" (in the words of Air Force tests and federal court records!) Now let's hope the VA will finally "man up" and give us recognition for "boots on the airplane"! 

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