Maine questions Canadian study of Agent Orange use at New Brunswick military base

FREDERICTON — Maine's state legislature has called for a new investigation into the use of herbicides, including Agent Orange, in the 1960s on a southern New Brunswick military base, describing a Canadian study that found no risks to human health as flawed.

The potential links between health problems and the use of Agent Orange at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown need to be re-evaluated, says a report released in January by the 10-member Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission.

A new investigation, it said, would help United States veterans access medical care if they had worked at the base, where in 1966 and 1967 the American military tested defoliants such as Agent Orange, which was used extensively by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War to destroy crops of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.

The commission's report said the data and analysis in the Canadian study is "incorrect, biased, and based on, in some cases, incomplete data and poor study design — at times exacerbated by the rapid period in which these reports were required to be conducted and issued."

"Additionally, the reports and their underlying data are not widely available and accessible, which undermines their scientific credibility and usability, and the reports were issued over 15 years ago; significant new knowledge about these chemicals, scientific methods and the health of those connected to Base Gagetown have since emerged and been developed."

The United States Veterans Affairs Department has recognized certain cancers are associated with exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, has classified one of the chemicals in Agent Orange as “known to be carcinogenic to humans."

The Canadian government began a fact-finding investigation in 2005 on the effects of Agent Orange use at Gagetown between 1966 and 1967. Kened Sadiku, spokesman for the Department of National Defence, says the study, released in 2006, found that herbicide levels used at the base posed no risk to human health.

"The results of this investigation concluded that, aside from the two instances of testing in 1966 and 1967, all herbicides used at Base Gagetown were regulated and used in accordance with all federal and provincial regulations and scientific policies at the time," Sadiku said in a written statement.

"Given the comprehensive nature of this report, an additional inquiry is not planned at this time."

However, as compensation for the possible exposure to "unregistered U.S. herbicides" on the base, the government of Canada gave eligible people a sum of $20,000.

A followup investigation was conducted in 2018 on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces, near a former waste disposal site on the Gagetown base. The site, about the size of 182 football fields, had been identified as an area of interest by a retired forces member.

"These results match those from previous investigations, and confirm that this area is not a former barrel disposal site, and that no barrels of Agent Orange have been found at Base Gagetown to date," the study concluded.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2024.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press