Ongoing debate regarding use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam era in Guam

by | Feb 7, 2019 | Federal Government | Comments

For decades, concerns from the citizens of Guam as well as many United States military veterans have circulated about the reported use of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange on the island. Now, the United States federal government has begun to address the issue for the first time since a class action lawsuit was filed in 1979. Sampling of the soil at multiple subsites across Guam starting in spring of 2018, resulted in inconclusive findings. A new series of tests are currently underway, results are expected to be announced soon.

The recent attention to concerns of toxic herbicides like Agent Orange can largely be attributed to Master Sergeant Leroy Foster, who has testified to spraying tens of thousands of gallons over Guam in deforestation operations. Foster states that his exposure to Agent Orange has caused him various diseases, including as well as cancer. Foster is not the only veteran who has made similar claims regarding his exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The previously mentioned class action lawsuit brought against the US government resulted in a $180 million payout, spread across thousands of veterans who had been exposed to the herbicide.

Agent Orange has partially become a forgotten controversy as the herbicide has been banned from use in the United States for years. However, the threat persists into modern days. Agent Orange is a powerful herbicide that was used to eliminate forestry during the Vietnam War. Short-term exposure to Agent Orange can result in numerous health issues to include liver problems, diabetes, and muscular dysfunction. Long-term exposure to the herbicide can result in birth defects, cancer, as well as psychological and neurological problems.

Beyond those exposed to Agent Orange during the conflict in Vietnam, many have been exposed long after the last bullets flew. Toxic components of Agent Orange can be absorbed into the fatty tissue of animals via their exposure to plants and water sources that have come into contact with the herbicide. Through local consumption of these animals, more people have exposed themselves to the effects of Agent Orange.

Some have cast doubt on the use of Agent Orange at all on Guam. Alvin Young, a self-described expert on Agent Orange, states that the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) reports thus far have actually proven that there was no use of Agent Orange on Guam. Young’s comments on the issue have been observed by some as an effort to silent the truth.

The GAO report acknowledges some key facts, combined with some unique language that may lend some insight into the truth. The GAO report states that the United States military did, in fact, use various herbicides on Guam during the Vietnam War. However, the report states that no “tactical” herbicides were utilized. Agent Orange would be considered one of such “tactical” chemicals. Agent Orange is not alone in the herbicides developed during this era; Agent’s Pink, Purple, Green, White, and Blue were also developed with varying strengths.

The only connection that the GAO report acknowledges between Agent Orange and Guam is that a vessel carrying the herbicide arrived at a port in Guam. On January 9, 1968, the SS Gulf Shipper left Mobile, Alabama, destined for Vietnam. The vessel, however, arrived at Port Apra, now known as Apra Harbor. Ship manifests do not indicate that Agent Orange was ever offloaded from the ship, however the report also stated that it was unclear why the ship stopped at Guam in the first place.

While results of further testing are still pending, one can look for answers in the information available thus far. Select herbicides from the “Agent” family above, have very similar chemical makeups as Agent Orange. One cannot say for certain that the residents of Guam have been exposed to Agent Orange, but the thousands of people who have expressed concern about their exposure cannot be ignored. The GAO’s use of select language in describing which herbicides had been dropped on Guam may be a major indicator that a herbicide similar to Agent Orange had been used on Guam.