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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
23 May 2011 (Minor Rev. 3 Jan 2012)
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association has reviewed with interest the Institute of Medicine Report by the Committee on Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure and thanks them for their months of hard work. The conclusion of the Committee was that it is impossible to document the level of Agent Orange exposure to Blue Water Navy veterans, just as it is impossible to document the level of exposure to land-based and riverine personnel. The inability to quantify these exposure levels was the basis for granting ‘presumption of exposure’ to the land and river personnel in the 1991 Agent Orange Act and, as a policy matter, is strong evidence for the extension of that same presumption to Blue Water Navy sailors.
The Committee did find that the Agent Orange dioxin entered the estuarine waters off shore through both wind drift, the discharge of direct spray and run-off of contaminated particulate matter from the many rivers and streams leading to the harbors and the seas. The report noted not only direct exposure on the near surface water but also that environmental effects and external effects such as anchoring could cause the dioxin that had settled to the seabed to be stirred up and rise to the surface. While it is impossible at this point to quantify the amount of Agent Orange in existence over forty years ago, there is no doubt that it was there. There were simply no measurements taken at that time, forty years ago, to act as a baseline for scientific analysis today.
The Committee validated the studies commissioned by the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs and conducted by researchers at the National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology (NRCET) and the Queensland Health Scientific Services which proved that the distillation process did not remove and in fact enhanced the effect of the Agent Orange dioxin. The IOM Committee study found a tenfold enrichment in the toxicity of the dioxin because of the distillation process, higher than that of the Australians. The Committee agreed that the introduction of the dioxin into the ship’s potable water supply through co-distillation would have resulted in contamination of shipboard personnel through several avenues. The Australian government has adopted the findings of their own report and has been granting benefits to their sailors for several years.
While the report was not conclusive as to any quantifiable level of exposure, it validated the probable exposure paths of Agent Orange to the Blue Water Navy sailors. Just as it has been impossible to confirm direct exposure in the case of land-based veterans, the lack of scientific confirmation is grounds for the extension of presumptive exposure to the offshore personnel, as was first suggested by the IOM in the Agent Orange Update published in 2009. Certainly a sailor anchored in Da Nang harbor deserves this presumption to the same or greater extent as land-based personnel who served in areas not known to have been probable candidates for exposure as shown in a Blue Water Navy Association study "The Da Nang Harbor Report."
Every person who served in Southeast Asia that receives or ever did receive Health Care and Compensation related to Agent Orange, including all Blue Water Navy personnel, did so under the exact conditions of uncertainty outlined in this report. There is not enough data to say specifically that any person, at any location in or near Vietnam, was contaminated by Agent Orange at any specific amount. This was the basis for the Rule of Presumptive Exposure. This IOM Report supports the concept that the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was intended to cover everyone in all branches of the Armed Forces who served in that conflict between 1962 until 1975. No group of individuals has stronger factual exposure than any other, putting Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard personnel on an equal footing regarding the possibility of exposure to herbicides in Vietnam. The presumption should apply equally to those who served offshore as well as those who served on land and in the inland waterways.
Points of Contact:
John Paul Rossie, Executive Director 303-762-9540
Commander John B. Wells, (USN Ret) Director of Legal and Legislative Affairs 985-641-1855
Susie Belanger, Director, Special Projects
Carol Olszanecki, Project Manager