07 October 2012

Aircrew Exposure to Dioxin Was PRIMARY, not Secondary!

74 AES & C-123 on Cross-Country Mission
In her 1 Oct 2012 letter, Under Secretary for Benifits Allison Hickey explained to me that the VA has no basis for considering "secondary exposure" Agent Orange claims, grouping our C-123 veterans into that category. We, however, were exposed in a direct, or primary manner! Not at all the same thing!

Let's look at "secondary exposure":

It is a simple thing. Something exposes or contaminates a second thing. Then a third thing is also exposed or contaminated by contact with that second...a secondarynexposure by the contaminant. When the third thing (or person) is exposed, that's secondary exposure.

Secretary Hickey entirely misses the point. Our airplanes remained contaminated with Agent Orange. Our intense, long-term contact with our airplanes exposed us to that contamination...in an initial, direct and primary, NOT secondary manner! Dioxin residue remained in the aircraft...important point!

Here is an occupational medicine definition of "secondary exposure":

"Secondary exposure: This term often refers to exposure to a different individual from contaminants on or in another individual, or on or in one thing from another thing; the term may also refer to exposure of a given part of an individual's body as a result of from contamination on or in some other part(s) of the individual's body."
The VA trying to stretch the truth in their secondary exposure scenario - claiming our touching some item on the C-123 that earlier itself touched and was contaminated by Agent Orange residue would not cause us harm. Perhaps so, but that is not the only way in which we were exposed...instead, our exposure was primary. We touched the dioxin itself.

Our aircraft were contaminated. Dioxin and other military herbicides remained on the aircraft until the C-123 fleet had to be completely destroyed as hazardous waste in 2012. Our exposure aboard was primary. According to the first comprehensive test done in 1994 (23 years after the last spray missions) they still were "heavily contaminated" on "100% of the test surfaces" when examined by toxicologists from the USAF Armstrong Laboratories.

But it is worst than that! We started flying these aircraft in 1972, just one year after the last Vietnam spray missions. Dioxin has a half-life of seven years on most surfaces, so the dioxin residue remaining on the C-123 was "fresh" and non-degraded. More intense, more contaminated...far more dangerous in the years 1972 to 1982 than suggested by tests completed nearly a quarter century later as General Hickey implies. Shouldn't the conclusion be that if the airplanes were a danger to public health in 2000 (as AF toxicologist Dr. Ron Porter testified in federal court), the airplanes were yet more dangerous in earlier years before the dioxin began to dissipate?

The CDC/ATSDR agrees that 1994 tests, dangerous enough in themselves, means the C-123 fleet was even more dangerous in earlier years. In his letter to the C-123 Veterans Association, Dr. Tom Sinks (Deputy Director) concludes our crews were exposed to a "200-fold greater cancer risk than the Army's screening value" suggested in the Army's gold-standard publication TG312. ATSDR even found that "TG312 likely understates the daily exposure of Air Force flight personnel in side the contaminated aircraft." The VA says our veterans were not exposed...but the ATSDR says we were and that our exposure was even worse than the "200 fold greater cancer risk" indicated by the 1994 tests. General Hickey...how bad does it have to get?

The VA's argument seems to shift. Earlier efforts to block us from medical care were advanced by the VA's Public Health folks who said the dioxin remaining on the aircraft could not expose us via dermal route because of their novel "dry dioxin transfer" concept plus the pretense that the skin is a near-perfect barrier to dioxin exposure. Science, as well as more experienced researchers, disagree completely. "Unscientific" was the toxicological scientists' description of the VA's hodgepodge of barriers raised against us.
Where VA C-123 reports belong!

We ask that the VA, our fellow veterans and the Air Force remember that the C-123 fleet came to us the year after Vietnam missions. It began being cleaned, and cleaned, and cleaned, and cleaned because the stench (from malathion and other contaminants) persisted. We cleaned those airplanes as best we could for the ten years we flew them, and even after removing all the contamination we could physically scraping and also using cleaning solvents recommended by the Air Force Material Command, we were still flying into danger.

 There was a "goop" of congealed military herbicides and malathion throughout the aircraft and especially in the wing boxes, under the cargo deck and nooks and crannies in the cargo area where spray had accumulated. Our aircraft went through at least one depot-level attempt to clean out the contamination. But the dioxin persisted, and was first identified in 1979 at the insistence of the 439th Tactical Hospital...and dioxin along with other military herbicides was confirmed. General...our contact with that goop was primary exposure! Even tests completed at Davis-Monthan in 2009 continued to show the aircraft continued to have dioxin present in all aircraft.

General Hickey, how bad does it have to get? How dedicated is the VA to creating mythical arguments to prevent us getting care for our Agent Orange illnesses? What about that "duty to assist?" Isn't anyone back at 810 Vermont on our side?

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