Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
Skeptics question preliminary findings at Fort Detrick
Some say herbicide report “not to be believed”
by Katherine Heerbrandt | Staff Writer
Toxicologist Dr. Richard Lipsey told an audience of Detrick officials, subcontractors, veterans and cancer victims Wednesday night that he was “kind of shocked” to hear that Agent Orange was used as sparingly as a recent report indicates.
Lispey, retired from the University of Florida, told attendees at a Fort Detrick clean-up committee meeting, that he does not believe that researchers at Fort Detrick used only 16 pounds of the herbicide over 24 years.
“I don’t know what to say other than the 16 to 17 pounds of active ingredient is not to be believed,” Lipsey said. “Maybe you haven’t found all the records, but I would be more likely to believe 500 pounds.”
Fort Detrick was home to experiments on crop killers and defoliation chemicals between 1944 and 1969. But a preliminary report from an archival research group led by Randal Curtis with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reveals that the dangerous chemicals were no different than commercial weed killer and that it was used in extremely small quantities.
The group has sifted through 2,600 documents and 400 maps and the research is ongoing, Curtis said. One of the challenges is that the information is scattered at repositories around the country. Another is that some of the material is still “classified.”…..
Curtis’ first job was to hunt for documents related to testing for chemicals related to Agent Orange, he said. Curtis acknowledged that Fort Detrick scientists may have used as much as 20 to 30 pounds of the chemicals between 1944 and 1969.
“But I don’t expect it to be higher than that,” Curtis added. He also reported that there is no evidence indicating that large scale or aerial spraying of Agent Orange was conducted at the base.
Lipsey was not the only attendee who was skeptical of Craig’s findings.
The meeting room at the Hampton Inn and Suites on Oppossumtown Pike in Frederick was packed with about 50 people Wednesday night, including a group of Vietnam War veterans who traveled from South Carolina, and members of the Kristen Renee Foundation, a group led by former pastor Randy White. White has led a charge and funded his own investigation into a link between rates of cancer in residents who live around the fort, and the contamination now being cleaned up with federal oversight as part of the Superfund Clean-up program. Fort Detrick was named to the list of most contaminated sites in the United States in 2008.
White’s daughter, Kristen Renee Hernandez, died at 30 years old of a brain tumor in 2008, and had grown up near the fort.
Veteran Lou Krieger, 62, of Myrtle Beach questioned the validity of the report on Agent Orange use at Detrick. Krieger volunteers to help veterans exposed to Agent Orange at military bases stateside receive recognition and compensation. His own struggles with chloracne, a skin disease caused by Agent Orange, are related to two tours of duty to Vietnam.
He took Curtis to task for not telling the entire story about the chemicals used in Agent Orange testing. “It is not simply the stuff you can buy off the shelf,” Krieger said. “It’s at much higher concentrations.”
Curtis agreed that the chemicals used for testing at Detrick were likely two-and-a-half times more concentrated than the garden variety herbicide.
Audience members grew agitated as Curtis’ presentation continued. Ignoring repeated calls to hold questions and comments until the presenters were finished, members of the Kristen Renee Foundation, including scientist John Bee and spokesperson Rachel Kelley, peppered questions at the contractors, with encouragement and additional questions from the crowd.
Towards the end of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, Kelley told Fort Detrick officials that the restoration board advisory meetings were “ineffective,” and said that people no longer attended them because they were “bull—-.”
After Dr. Lipsey’s announcement that he did not believe the results of the archival search on Agent Orange, Detrick attorney Gary Zolyak questioned Lipsey’s allegiance, and asked if Randy White was paying him to be in attendance.
“I am paid to be here,” Lipsey said. “But not to take sides.”
The archival research will be finished in the fall, and a final report will be issued.