HAGATNA, 26 JANUARY 2017 (RNZ) — Alarm is being raised in Guam following allegations that the US military sprayed the toxic chemical Agent Orange on the island during the Vietnam War.
Guam’s governor has ordered comprehensive tests on drinking water and soil after a US veteran told media he personally sprayed thousands of litres of the herbicide on the island during the war.
The US military, however, has said it has no record of Agent Orange being used on Guam.
Agent Orange was used extensively by the US military as a defoliant during the Vietnam War. It has been found to be highly toxic, and is linked to cancers, deformities and other illnesses.
The retired US air force sergeant, LeRoy Foster, who was stationed on Guam during the 1960s and ’70s, says he was told to use the chemical to control vegetation at Andersen Air Force base.
Foster, who thought the herbicide was safe to use at the time, is now suffering from cancer and numerous other illnesses.
“I have 33 autoimmune diseases and heart disease, several cancers, and they had to cut out my rectum and colon. I know that was from sitting on that trailer being soaked in Agent Orange because the wind would blow it right back in my face.”
Foster says he feels personally responsible for using the chemical and he wants the people of Guam to know the truth.
He doesn’t believe he has long to live and he’s calling for the US military to publicly admit it used Agent Orange on Guam.
“They are still denying it but the Airforce – they have me rated with combat-related special compensation for my diseases that were caused by Agent Orange.”
One long time Guam resident, Pascual Sablan, says the allegations do not come as any surprise to him.
Sablan says he believes the chemical has caused a lot of harm to Guam’s residents.
“I think Guam has the highest [level] of cancer per capita. Why are people dying, you know? Young people, old people, they’re dying – most of it from cancer.”
Pascual Sablan says he feels angry at the US Military, which still has a very strong presence on Guam.
Meanwhile, Guam’s governor, Eddie Calvo, has ordered Guam’s Environmental Protection Agency to test for traces of the toxic chemical.
The governor’s director of communications, Oyaol Ngirairikl, says it’s too early to say if any residue would pose a threat to public health but it’s very concerning.
“So, that’s one of the thing we’re trying to find out – that if we do have it in Guam – what levels are they? and are those levels harmful? Over time, could even a reduced amount [of Agent Orange] cause harm to the community? I know that many people are worried about it.”
Guam’s Environmental Protection Agency says its investigation is underway and it is already gathering sworn testimonies from US veterans.
Its spokesperson, Nic Lee, says it is treating the allegations with the utmost urgency.
“The dioxin that’s associated with Agent Orange is something that the World Health Organisation determines as a persistent organic pollutant and it is a known carcinogen…so we are definitely taking this very seriously.”
Nic Lee says the Guam EPA is working with its US counterpart and it is too early to say how long the investigation will take.
Veteran Affairs did not respond to a request for comment…. PACNEWS [/restrict]