After Vietnam, in our "age of innocence," they were the cargo C-123s.
Beginning in 1979 with the first comprehensive toxicological tests on Patches (Tail #362), the C-123 fleet began transitioning again to "the Agent Orange airplanes" but we were assured they were quite safe. Quite safe. Except for something called "military herbicides."
Retired in 1982, the toxin evidence became perfectly clear at the USAF Museum in 1994 when Patches was carefully examined by the USAF Armstrong Labs, whose toxicologists labeled her "heavily contaminated on all test surfaces" and "a danger to public health." Because they love us and care, the USAF Office of Environmental Law felt it better to keep us from worrying about this Agent Orange exposure which we'd already underwent, so they ordered "This information should be kept in official channels only." There it quietly rested until Freedom of Information Act requests in 2011 began uncovering what shouldn't have been covered up at all...we veterans were already exposed to deadly dioxin for a full decade while flying the C-123 fleet.
Now that the word is out, the VA carefully selects which words they'll accept regarding the C-123 history, because their mission is to ignore proofs and deny benefits. Always. Whenever requested - deny. And they indeed denied. Denied - all expert opinions that we were exposed. Denied - all other federal government agencies' opinions that we were exposed. Denied - and the list of excuses goes on. In particular, the VA was very careful to ignore a legal case which grew out of the inadvertent sale of C-123s out of Davis-Monthan. The GSA sold two to Walt Disney Films, and then a GSA whistle-blower notified everyone she could mail that this shouldn't have happened, leading to a court case brought by a buyer who'd wanted five more C-123s for fire-fighting.
Sworn testimony from that court case (GSBCA14165) taken from Air Force toxicologist Dr. Ron Porter and senior leadership at Davis-Monthan, really illustrates the danger of the dioxin contamination. It really demonstrates the degree to which the VA forces blinders on itself and its rating officers to pretend that the C-123 veterans weren't exposed during the years 1972-1982.
The GSA and other reports are further confirmed by the Army's TG312, which analyzed toxins within closed spaces such as offices, and by which standards the C-123 veterans were exposed to 800-times the screening values!
---summation of exposure issues revealed in GSA GSBCA Appeal 14165----
GSA testimony re: Board of Contract Appeals, GSBCA14165, ruling issued 22 Sept 2000
01/24/00 (date of hearing)
Following is the C-123 Veterans' Analysis of the Government's Testimony:
[The case involved an inadvertent sale by the government of five contaminated C-123 warplanes, an action canceled by the government but contested in court by the buyer. The Air Force and GSA together asserted the airplanes remained hazardous with Agent Orange contamination and the sale was negated by the GSA hearing judge, in agreement with the government’s position. Two contaminated aircraft had been inadvertently sold to Walt Disney Films which brought the issue to greater visibility to the Air Force and GSA (highly embarrassing!)]
The C-123 veterans point out that we flew these airplanes decades before these actions. Decades during which the dioxin described by expert witnesses as hazardous, was far fresher and dangerous in our service. It would require an unusual thought process to consider these warplanes hazardous and in but somehow not also dangerous in the years 1972-1982, given the general predictability of dioxin’s half life having reduced the toxicity in later years.
Of special note is the sworn testimony that the airplane’s dioxin did indeed represent both a dermal and inhalation exposure threat to unprotected personnel in 2000. We were unprotected between 1972-1982, wearing thin NOMEX flight suits and not wearing any respirators.
page 67 (18) the Air Force expert witness testifies under oath in federal court proceedings that the hazards of dioxin exposure existed for all personnel associated with the C-123, not just museum restoration workers or demilitarization workers as suggested by the VA’s interpretation of AF test results.
Page 83 (22) Dr. Ron Porter, AF toxicologist from USAF Armstrong Laboratory Brooks AFB, Texas, and one of the scientists who conducted the 1994 tests of C-123 aircraft at the USAF Museum, confirms under oath the major part of the hazard “was physical contact with the contaminated (24) surface. He continued, “If there’s significant dioxin there, then dioxin can volatilize into (6) the air, so it could be a respirable hazard, a (7) respiration hazard.” The VA has improperly characterized the exposure hazard as non-existent, yet here the government testifies that it was significant in both dermal and inhalation routes of exposure. VA has characterized dermal exposure as “unlikely” and inhalation exposure as impossible. VA has done so only via literature review, not via hands-on investigation of the contaminated airplanes as has Dr. Porter.
Porter stated that he directed personnel at Wright-Patterson be kept out of the C-123 because of dioxin, once his report was completed in 1994. We were not kept out of the airplane but instead served aboard it for a decade. Porter (5, 107) reminds the judge that the interior of the C-123 is not only metal (upon which the VA asserts the dioxin had dried) but actually bare aircraft-grade aluminum, painted and unpainted metal surfaces of various types, wood, canvas, glass, plastic, fiberglass, paper, cardboard, rubber and a wide range of other materials, all presenting a variety of dermal dioxin transfer characteristics. Porter formed a firm conclusion, expressed under oath, (14) that “there was a potential risk of exposure to chemicals in those airplanes, specifically (17) Agent Orange and/or dioxin.
The C-123 veterans cannot accept any characterization which holds that the C-123 aircraft presented a potential risk of exposure to Agent Orange in January 2000 without that risk being considered also present during our decade of service between 1972 and 1982, when the dioxin was much less degraded, and fresher following the missions in Vietnam which ended only the year before.