Army post caused a cancer cluster in Frederick
by Megan Eckstein
Originally published February 23, 2011
Fort Detrick has released a preliminary archive search report on its past Agent Orange use as the Kristen Renee Foundation began to ramp up its efforts to prove that the Army post caused a cancer cluster in Frederick.
According to the report, which was posted online Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that Fort Detrick tested an estimated 16.82 pounds of Agent Orange and similar defoliants between 1944 and 1951.
In a news release, Fort Detrick noted that the amount tested was relatively small.
“During 1969 alone, the national average for use of the exact same chemical was roughly 1.12 pounds per acre, which equates to more than 8.9 million pounds used nationwide to include farm, lawn care, right of way, private property, aquatic area applications,” the news release states. “There is no difference in the compounds used by the military during this time and those that were commercially available.”
Fort Detrick’s preliminary report is based on annual special reports, which chronicle scientific research. The archived records show that the Chemical Warfare Service at Fort Detrick in 1944 gave the Plant Research Branch “the mission of developing chemical agents to destroy or reduce the value of crops.” This mission led to the creation of a number of chemicals in the Agent Orange family.
According to the preliminary report, records show that researchers tested these chemicals in fields between 1944 and 1951. Tests were done in plots of 6 by 18 feet; the chemicals were applied with hand-held sprayers. Light metal frames with wind-resistant cloth were placed between each plot to keep the chemicals from spreading and ruining the experiments — which also means the chemicals didn’t blow far off Army grounds, the report states.
The report also notes two more experiments — one that tested chemicals from a truck-mounted spray tower and the other that tested herbicides’ movement through the soil.
Greenhouse tests of Agent Orange between August 1961 and June 1963 — which the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has acknowledged as a cause of health problems for veterans who served at Fort Detrick at the time and for which it is currently paying disability claims — are outlined in a classified report, the preliminary report says, so details about those tests have not yet been made available to the Corps of Engineers.
Fort Detrick announced the 17-pound figure in November but was met with criticism from the Kristen Renee Foundation and its supporters, who didn’t believe the Army would acknowledge the full extent of the problem. A National Academy of Sciences panel is set to review data suggesting that the Agent Orange tests from decades ago have not led to a cancer cluster, but Kristen Renee Foundation founder Randy White said during a Tuesday news conference that he had no confidence the NAS panel would get to the bottom of the problem.
“I believe the Department of Defense is worse than the Mafia,” he said, explaining that the military wasn’t likely to allow access to all its documents related to Agent Orange testing.
White’s news conference Tuesday was the beginning of a weeklong push to bring new attention to his fight against Fort Detrick. Today, the foundation will join with Vietnam War veterans to protest before the Fort Detrick Restoration Advisory Board meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Hampton Inn on Opossumtown Pike in Frederick.
On Thursday, White is scheduled to testify before the state Senate Finance Committee in Annapolis and to ask for money for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to conduct a more thorough cancer cluster investigation.
A bill being considered, Senate Bill 574, would mandate “the Biennial Cancer Study conducted by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to measure possible environmental causes of targeted and nontargeted cancers, including specified chemical agents and toxins.” The bill does not mention Frederick or Fort Detrick, but White said he believed the funding would help his cause.
At the news conference, White also offered updates on his private research into cancer cases near Fort Detrick. He said he had handed out 30,000 surveys for residents to detail their families’ cancer history. The forms are being returned at a rate of about 20 a day, he said, and he hopes to have collected 1,200 by next month.
White also discussed blood tests he paid to have done on several local residents with cancer. He said researchers found dioxin in the blood samples, and that dioxin was a “very close” match to the dioxin in soil samples taken near Fort Detrick. White would not elaborate further. He declined to say how many blood samples were taken and from whom, and he would not clarify from where the soil samples were taken.