US EPA tests Guam for Agent Orange

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Left to Right: John Columb, USEPA Superfund Technical Assistance and Response Team (START) Contractor from Weston Solutions Inc.; Harry Allen, USEPA START On Scene Coordinator; Amanda Wagner, USEPA START Contractor from Weston Solutions Inc. (Photo: Guam EPA)

Guam – Agent Orange data gathering has begun. A US Environmental Protection Agency Superfund soil sampling team rolled up its sleeves and got down to business collecting clods of island earth in search of toxins on Guam Wednesday.

The samples are rolling in and Guam Environmental Protection Agency Acting Deputy Administrator Nic Rupley Lee says test results should be forthcoming within four to six weeks. PNC is still awaiting word on where samples will be tested.

Guam EPA reports collecting soil samples with US EPA at five sample subsites in areas believed to have been exposed to Agent Orange, including Potts Junction and Tiyan.

Left to Right: Harry Allen, USEPA On Scene Coordinator; Walter S. Leon Guerrero, Guam EPA Administrator; Taryn Mesa, Guam EPA Biologist; Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje; Guam EPA Board Chairman Bob Perron. (Photo: Guam EPA

Outspoken Agent Orange settlement advocate, Legislative Committee on Culture and Justice Chair, and Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje tagged along for the ride. But, as a precaution against health risk liabilities, news media were not invited.

The decisive federal action follows Terlaje’s ten-and-a-half-month campaign to get Guam tested for herbicidal AO toxins in the wake of testimony by the likes of late Air Force MSGT Leroy Foster, who said he sprayed tens of thousands of gallons of Agent Orange defoliant on Guam during the Vietnam War and later suffered multiple cancers and autoimmune diseases.

But the battle for federal testing and site access has reportedly only just begun.

According to Guam EPA, last week the agency requested access to DOD-controlled areas outside the fence line, but  “the agency has learned that this request is still under review and acknowledges that it is unlikely for access to be granted while the USEPA-led sampling team is on island.”

Gov. Eddie Calvo, meanwhile, registered a sense of urgency and critical timing.

“The military has the opportunity here to show good faith and a ‘good neighbor’ relationship by cooperating productively with Guam EPA, US EPA, and other agencies.

“Finding the facts will help us all, including US strategic interests, civilians, Guam veterans, and current US service members stationed here.

“Working together, we can finally uncover the truth and bring closure to our veterans and our people who have waited so long. We deserve nothing less.”

Here is an official press release from Guam EPA, describing the soil sampling:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Guam EPA samples soils off-base for Agent Orange

November 15, 2018 (Tiyan, Guam) – The Guam Environmental Protection Agency (Guam EPA), along with officials from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) collected soil samples yesterday. Five-point composite samples were collected from five sample sub-sites in areas that were believed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. An area off of NCS road, along Route 3 and in the vicinity of Potts Junction and a pipe line tie-in located in Tiyan were among the first areas to be sampled.

USEPA’s On Scene Coordinator, Harry L. Allen, and USEPA Superfund Technical Assistance and Response Team (START) contractors from Weston Solutions Inc. performed the sampling. Present at the sampling event were Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje, Guam EPA Administrator Walter S. Leon Guerrero, Guam EPA Board Chairman Bob Perron and USEPA Region IX Guam and CNMI Program Manager Carl Goldstein.

“We are pleased with the support and commitment from our counterparts at USEPA Region IX,” said Leon Guerrero. “Expanding sampling and analysis outside of the military base is critical to the agency’s investigation.”

During a pre-investigation conference call with Agent Orange Survivors of Guam, Brian Moyer and Executive Director of Military-Veterans Advocacy Inc., Commander J. B. Wells U. S. Navy (Retired), Guam EPA was able to compile a list of potential areas to sample. The sampling team expects to complete sample collections on Thursday, November 15, 2018.

In a briefing with Leon Guerrero, Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo stated, “The voices of our veterans must be heard. For too long, Guam has suffered from lack of federal Veterans Affairs funding and Congressional support for our veterans, despite being the highest in the nation for military enlistment and service.” Calvo further stated, “For too long, the reports of Agent Orange use on Guam went unheeded, the credibility of our veterans attacked while they suffered from multiple cancers and birth defects.”

In addition to the Potts Junction vicinity, Guam EPA expects additional samples to be collected from other areas which include: a pipeline tie-in located in Piti near the Marianas Yacht Club, an area of pipeline in Mongmong-Toto-Maite and areas in Nimitz Hill.

The sampling team has expressed interest in collecting samples in DOD-controlled areas that are outside of the military fence lines. Last week, an agency request for such site access was submitted to NAVFAC Marianas. The agency has learned that this request is still under review and acknowledges that it is unlikely for access to be granted while the USEPA-led sampling team is on island.

In response to the lack of access to these sites, Calvo stated, “The military has the opportunity here to show good faith and a “good neighbor” relationship by cooperating productively with Guam EPA, U.S. EPA, and other agencies.  Finding the facts will help us all, including U.S. strategic interests, civilians, Guam veterans, and current U.S. service members stationed here. Working together, we can finally uncover the truth and bring closure to our veterans and our people who have waited so long.  We deserve nothing less.”

| END OF RELEASE |

For more information about this release, please contact Guam EPA Acting Deputy Administrator Nic Rupley Lee at 300-4753 or nic.rupley@epa.guam.gov