Pages: Lists of Fundamental Documents

20 January 2016

Wing Commander Assured Aircrews Patches Was Safe (1979)

Statement of Brigadier General Don Haugen, Commander, 439th Airlift Wing:
"As far as aircraft safety is concerned, although there is never a warranty, the C-123 is as safe as humanly possible."(BG Don Haugen, October 1979)
     General Haugen's reassurance came in 1979 one month after inspectors from Air Force Armstrong Labs reported residue on C-123K # 362 (Patches) of military herbicides, including Agent Orange and Agent Blue, left from their Vietnam War spray operations. 

     The general was told the airplanes were safe. The general told us the airplanes were safe. But the airplanes were not safe, and now the aircrews are blocked from exposure benefits we'd have received if USAF mistakes had been uncovered earlier. When the 1979 tests were done, no science existed to detect the deadly TCDD contaminant which was the real problem.
     The 1979 test was ordered when aircrews and maintenance staff submitted safety complaints addressing Patch's stench. The scientists concluded that Patches should be scrubbed out with Dawn detergent and air fresheners used to mask the stench. Of course, Dawn detergent did nothing to help and neither did the many years crews spent trying to scrape out the residue.
     Fifteen years later, USAF Armstrong Labs again inspected Patches, determining her to be "heavily contaminated with dioxin on all test surfaces, and "a danger to public health." Patches received a $60,000 HAZMAT decontamination and its toxicity was reduced to about 10% of the original contamination, judged safe for "occasional entry."
     Conclusion: without the decontamination, Patches certainly wasn't "as safe as humanly possible" but instead remained a source of our Agent Orange exposures. The 1994 $60,000 decontamination should have been done BEFORE we started flying Patches, not fifteen years AFTER she was retired. (In 2012-2014 the VA spent $600,000 for its consultant to oppose C-123 claims at the IOM, more than enough to have decontaminated each of the aircraft at the very first!)     
     It wasn't until January 2015 that the Institute of Medicine determined that C-123 veterans had been exposed to harmful amounts of Agent Orange while flying Patches, and that veterans' benefits were appropriate. IOM concluded that the 2012 Air Force study of C-123 Agent Orange exposure were scientifically and mathematically flawed: the Air Force (incorrectly) reported the C-123s weren't hazardous and that veterans benefits would be inappropriate.
     General Haugen was a wonderful man. I had the privilege of working for him for years, but even this general officer was misled by faulty science and an institution dedicated to denial of such problems.

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