In what could be a major step forward for Vietnam-era veterans on Guam, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has publicly released the results of the Herbicides Investigation report eight months after soil sampling in October last year and the results find more clear evidence of Agent Orange in the island’s soil.
Initial soil sample testing was conducted by the U.S. EPA’s Superfund team in November 2018. The results then showed traces of dioxin but at non-toxic levels in the one sample location.
These newer tests, however, results prove otherwise.
Senator Therese Terlaje has been advocating in support of veterans on the issue.
“We’re excited by these new test results because they did find TCDD to be present and they’re recommending to re-test some more and dig deeper, that’s one, so that they can overcome any erosion that might have taken place or degradation over the years from the topsoil. And they’re also recommending that they go back to their original plan which was to test places on base,” Terlaje said.
TCDD is a carcinogen and an active component of Agent Orange and other rainbow herbicides.
This new report references soil collected at the Tiyan Junction location which yielded higher concentrations than other samples. The report’s author found that it’s probable that TCDD dioxins detected in the soil are associated with chlorinated herbicides.
The EPA teams, though, need more samples to come to a clearer conclusion but they were denied base-access for testing.
“Base is where the fuel depots were and the transfer of the fuel and herbicides…those are the places that are very prominent in these veterans’ minds. They can describe them very well as to where they were sprayed, where they were stored, where they were moved around,” Terlaje said.
Guam EPA says they’ll be writing to the Department of Defense to express their concerns with these new soil results. They’re also going to try to gain access to the bases for more testing.
The ultimate goal is to properly compensate Vietnam-era veterans who served during a period of exposure between 1962 to 1975 and ensuring that monetary compensation is a task for the U.S. Congress, according to Terlaje.
“First of all, I think the veterans and the residents deserve to know whether they were exposed because then they can deal with their illnesses appropriately and they can hopefully get healthcare, medical coverage, and compensation that’s going to help them to take care and ease the suffering that they’re undergoing. Otherwise, they’re on their own for healthcare and to take care of what’s resulted,” Terlaje said.
She added: “That is the way to get it done as a presumption for all as opposed to a case-by-case basis happening at the VA right now. And, even the test results, it’ll take a while. So the Congressional approach is definitely, we’re hoping, the fastest.”
Terlaje says there are years of testimony and sworn affidavits from veterans who say they were exposed to dioxin and the other herbicides.
“This is heart-wrenching because when they’re old and suffering, they’re still advocating for everything they’ve got in them for some kind of justice… and they believe this is justice that they are seeking,” the senator said.
And it’s not just a veterans issue, according to Terlaje.
“If these dioxins continue to exist in our soils and other places then we need to remove them, and I want that to happen … that’s my goal also,” she said.
This new testing challenges the findings of a previous Government Accountability Office report which found that Agent Orange exposure could not be conclusively proved or disproved because of incomplete, lost and absent records and a lack of credible soil samples.
It follows a research report released by two veteran advocacy groups in May of this year which concluded that the weight of the evidence shows veterans during that time were exposed to Agent Orange and other dioxin-containing herbicides.
At the time of that May White Paper, Guam Attorney Mike Phillips said he’s already contemplating legal action over the impact on Guam’s civilian community.