13 June 2014

Monsanto & Dow Sponsor New Challenges to Veterans' Exposure Claims

Two scientists sponsored by Dow Chemical and Monsanto, the manufacturers of Agent Orange, recently submitted challenges through the Department of Veterans Affairs to an article published in Environmental Research. The peer-reviewed article which Dow and Monsanto challenged reviewed military tests from 1979 through 2009 and concluded C-123 veterans were exposed. This did not sit well with either the VA or the chemical manufacturers.

Given their sponsors, it is no surprise that the Dow and Monsanto challengers eagerly concluded veterans who flew C-123 transports in the decade after Vietnam were unlikely to have been exposed to deadly dioxin.

What upset them was the article from April's Environmental Research by Drs. Peter Lurker, Jeanne Stellman, Richard Clapp and Fred Berman, titled "Post-Vietnam military herbicide exposures in UC-123 Agent Orange spray aircraft." Before publication, the article was reviewed by a critical panel of experts for scientific accuracy, to be accepted as part of the body of scientific literature. Dow and Monsanto's challenge, on the other hand, was a simple letter to the editor, lacking scientific standing.

The transports' spray tanks were removed after the war. Dioxin is a contaminant of Agent Orange used in Vietnam. Many of the veterans' fleet of C-123, were tested repeatedly between 1979-2009 and the lingering dioxin contamination verified in seventeen C-123s. Tests were performed by Air Force and civilian toxicologists. All the planes were retired from service in 1982, and stored in desert HAZMAT quarantine.

After 27 years in quarantine, and concerned about a threatened EPA $3.4 billion fine for illegal HAZMAT storage, the Air Force approved destruction of the toxic aircraft. All were shredded and smelted, and certified as destroyed by Air Force experts, in June of 2010.

Dow and Monsanto's challenge of the Environmental Research's article was needed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Traditionally, VA has opposed all efforts by veterans to qualify for exposure benefits, a record of intransigence that compelled Congress to enact the 1991 Agent Orange Act and its supporting legal regulations. VA welcomed the effort by Dow and Monsanto, the better to challenge C-123 veterans' claims for Agent Orange benefits. Which is why Congress enacted the 1991 Agent Orange Act.

VA provided the Dow/Monsanto letter to the Institute of Medicine by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which released the scientists' challenge along with some 80 other documents. Unlike the Dow and Monsanto contractors, Lurker et. al. were uncompensated for their research, motivated by their desire to evaluate veterans' exposure experiences aboard the C-123s.

No effort was made, no money was spent, by the Department of Veterans Affairs to sponsor research which would support the C-123 veterans' exposure claims, but several contracts were issued to pay selected consultants to write a series challenges to veterans' claims. Post Deployment Health immediately denied any Agent Orange exposure when C-123 veterans first approached with the question in 2011, and ever effort by VA since then has been to block all evidence which supports veterans claims.

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