Thursday, June 23, 2016

Maxus Energy Files for Bankruptcy Protection - Maxus Dumped Dioxin into Passaic River

Maxus Energy Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection Friday after reaching a deal with its corporate parent, YPF SA, on the terms of a settlement tied to liabilities for the cleanup of New Jersey’s contaminated Passaic River.
The deal calls for YPF to provide Maxus, which filed for chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., along with four other affiliates including its Tierra Solutions unit, with $130 million. In return, Maxus will drop any “alter ego” claims it may have against its parent for cleaning up the river.
YPF, which is Argentina’s state-run oil company, bought Maxus Energy Corp. in 1995. A New Jersey state court ruled five years ago that Maxus and Tierra were responsible for dumping of dioxin, a highly toxic chemical and suspected carcinogen, into the river in the 1950s and 1960s.
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The bankruptcy filing comes days before Occidental Petroleum Corp.’s chemical subsidiary, known as OxyChem, was slated to head to court over litigation seeking to put YPF on the hook for Maxus’s environmental obligations. OxyChem purchased part of Maxus’s business in 1986.

Florida County official leads effort to ease benefit claims for veterans' families

BARTOW — Mike Mason knew the Vietnam veteran’s widow deserved better.
Mason, Polk County’s manager of Veteran Services, met the woman when she came into his office hoping to receive federal Veterans Affairs benefits. Her husband had died of a heart attack 10 years earlier, and she thought his death might have been linked to his service-related disability.
The veteran had been diagnosed with ischemic heart disease, and his exposure to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam made it a service-connected condition. The out-of-state death certificate, however, did not mention that underlying illness.
As a result, the woman didn’t apply for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.
“This lady lived for 10 years on a shoestring, just barely getting by,” Mason said.
Mason and his staff helped the woman file a new claim with support from a local doctor, and eventually she received a bank deposit of about $29,000 from the VA to cover her decade of missed benefits.
But Mason didn’t stop there.
He began a two-year campaign that led to a revision in Florida’s death certificate process. An electronic form used by funeral directors was modified in February to add information about health conditions related to military service, making it easier for family members of veterans to file claims for benefits.
Florida is the first state to gather information about veterans’ service-related health conditions and share it with doctors before death certificates are issued, say Mason and others involved with the policy.

Cleaning the environment: It’s the pits - Syrian researchers use date stones to suck up toxic materials

TO DISCOVER how to use a waste material to clean up hazardous chemicals is a notable achievement. To do so while working in a war zone is doubly impressive. But that, with a little help from some foreign friends, is just what Abdulsamie Hanano of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission, in Damascus, has done. Over the past four years Dr Hanano, who works in the commission’s molecular-biology department, and his colleagues have developed a way to use the stones (or pits) of dates, a waste product of the fruit-packing industry, to clean up dioxins, a particularly nasty and persistent type of organic pollutant that can lead to reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, and even cause cancer. Dioxins are produced mainly as a by-product of industrial processes.
Dr Hanano lit on date stones for this task for three reasons. One was that they are rich in oils of a sort that have an affinity for dioxins. The second was that, though they are not unique in this oil-richness, unlike other oil-rich seeds (olives, rape, sesame and so on) they have no commercial value. The third was that, despite lacking commercial value, they are abundant.
It was not the oil per se that Dr Hanano wanted, though. Rather, he intended to extract in one piece the droplets into which this oil is packaged within a stone. Besides oil, these droplets contain special proteins that help to hold them together. And each droplet is surrounded by a membrane composed of a substance called a phospholipid which, unlike oil, is attractive to water. This means that when the droplets are shaken up with water, they form a stable emulsion.
To gather the droplets, Dr Hanano and his colleagues first softened up their date stones by soaking them in water for two weeks. That done, they ground them up and centrifuged the result. This process separated the droplets from the rest of the gunk as a creamy emulsion. It was then a question of testing the emulsion’s ability to extract dioxins from water. As the group report in Frontiers in Plant Science, it did this well. The droplets’ phospholipid membranes proved no barrier to the passage of dioxins, which accumulated satisfactorily in the oil. One of Dr Hanano’s collaborators, Denis Murphy of the University of South Wales, in Britain, describes the droplets as acting like little magnets for dioxins. “Within a minute,” he says, “virtually all the dioxins are sucked out of a solution. It is very fast.”
In particular, the droplets absorbed 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, an extremely toxic herbicide that was one of the constituents of Agent Orange, used to destroy vegetation by American forces during the Vietnam war. And, once the dioxins are inside the droplets, their affinity for the oil is such that they never leave. Disposing of them is just a matter of scooping up the droplets (which will eventually rise to the top of any water containing them) and destroying them safely in, say, a furnace.

Monday, June 20, 2016

TELEPHONE CALL IN – SENATE BILL S.2921 - WEDNESDAY JUNE 22, 2016


TELEPHONE CALL IN – SENATE BILL S.2921
Hello, my name is (identify yourself) and I am a constituent in your state.
I am calling today to urge you to contact Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada asking that S.2921, the Veterans First Act, be moved to the floor of the Senate for vote and passage before the scheduled summer recess.
This important legislation would establish within the Department of Veterans Affairs a national center for the research on diagnosis and treatment of the health conditions of the descendants of veterans exposed to toxic substances during service in the Armed Forces (S.901) and provides Caregivers benefits to Vietnam Veterans in your state.
Thank you for your attention to my request.
(Leave your name, home address and phone number so the office can follow up with you later)

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has done its job and NOW it is time for Senate leadership to hold a floor vote on S. 2921, the Veterans First Act.
It is all about the one-minute phone call. Let your politicians know that you are watching and that you care.
Passage and enactment of S.2921 will begin to address the legacy of toxic exposures on the innocent victims and enhance benefits and services to those who answered our nation’s call in defense of our Constitution-- our Nation’s Veterans.
This is one of our last battles—Losing is not an option.
Make the call on June 22, 2016
John Rowan
National President/CEO
        Vietnam Veterans of America


NEW ACTING VA BENEFITS UNDERSECRETARY SAYS AGENT ORANGE IS HARMLESS!

Problems continue to unfold at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has had a series of recent personnel changes, one of them the departure of the man filling the office of Undersecretary for Veterans Benefits.
So, as a problem topped with another problem, in comes
Mr. Thomas Murphy (himself a veteran,, moving up from his Director, Compensation and Pension in less than a year to become Acting Undersecretary for Veterans Benefits.
Mr. Murphy is a hard worker, and came to his earlier position at Compensation and Pension in 2010 where he oversaw VA's entire program for reviewing veterans' disability claims for approval or disapproval. His business background was at Home Depot.
Why is Mr. Murphy a problem? Because his six years at Compensation and Pension are fairly judged to be a relative failure in serving America's veterans. We'll focus here on two of these failures.
First, his determination and success in "holding the line" on Agent Orange claims. The two most visible groups he's fought on this are the Blue Water Navy Veterans and the C-123 Veterans Association.
In 2012 Mr. Murphy wrote his denial of a C-123 veteran's Agent Orange exposure claims, "In conclusion, there is no conclusive evidence that TCDD exposure causes any adverse health effects." He wrote that to dismiss expert input from the CDC confirming the veteran's exposure.


TCDD, the toxin in Agent Orange, is recognized by science to be the most toxic of the toxins, and definitely causes "adverse health effects." VA itself (but not Mr. Murphy) understands that it is a highly toxic substance.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

New policy protects Marines, sailors facing separation for mental health issues

Marines and sailors facing involuntary separation due to a diagnosed mental health condition will now be better guarded against leaving the military with other-than-honorable discharges.
The unprecedented change was made last week by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. It requires service members with conditions like post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury to have a disability evaluation before a final decision on their involuntary separation is made.
Veteran groups lauded the change and are calling on other military branches to follow suit.
In the past, misconduct was the predominate factor in every involuntary separation. This long-held approach adversely impacted veterans’ ability to receive benefits, and did not take into full consideration how the service member's condition may have contributed to the misconduct.
Diagnosed mental health conditions will take precedence over misconduct under the new Disability Evaluation System, which is effective immediately. Additionally, Marines and sailors with a diagnosed mental health condition who are facing other-than-honorable discharge will be referred to the first general or flag officer in their chain of command for a final determination.
Keeping faith 
The new policy was largely driven by comments heard as Mabus visited sailors and Marines, family members, and veteran groups, said Navy Capt. Patrick McNally, the SecNav's spokesman. The change required a months-long policy review and some legal steps to allow the secretary to make the change.

On Agent Orange, VA Weighs Politics and Cost Along With Science

Last year, a group of federal scientists was debating whether as many as 2,100 Air Force veterans should qualify for cash benefits for ailments they claimed stemmed from flying aircraft contaminated by Agent Orange.
An outside panel of experts had already determined that the scientific evidence showed the vets were likely exposed to the toxic herbicide.
The scientists within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs agreed the airmen had a strong case. But they had a more calculated concern: If the VA doled out cash to these veterans, others might want it too, according to an internal document obtained by ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot.
The group put their worries in writing. In a draft memo, they warned the secretary of Veterans Affairs that giving benefits to the airmen might prompt “additional pressure” from other veteran groups.
Such political and financial concerns aren’t supposed to play into decisions about Agent Orange benefits, veterans advocates and some legal experts say. Federal law requires that, in most cases, these decisions be guided strictly by science.
But an examination of two recent cases illustrates how dueling considerations of liability, responsibility and evolving scientific evidence weigh into VA deliberations.
“This shows what we’ve already suspected: At the VA, they’re more interested in politics, and protecting their turf and their bonuses than fulfilling their mission to assist veterans,” said John Wells, a Louisiana lawyer who has spent more than a decade advocating for 90,000 Navy vets fighting for Agent Orange benefits.
VA officials say they are committed to making sure qualified vets get benefits, and they believe the law allows them to consider the ramifications of their decisions when weighing the eligibility of new groups.
“Considering second order effects of a decision does not in any way violate the Agent Orange Act,” the VA’s general counsel’s office wrote in response to questions.
For the past year, ProPublica and The Pilot have been examining the effects Agent Orange has had on a growing group of veterans and their families. Decades after the end of the Vietnam War, many are suffering an array of health consequences and are struggling to prove they were exposed. In interviews, they blame the VA for obstructing their claims through denials or ever-escalating requests for information, a process some call “delay, deny, wait till I die.”

When VA is deciding on Agent Orange benefits, science sometimes takes backseat to politics and cost

Last year, a group of federal scientists was debating whether as many as 2,100 Air Force veterans should qualify for cash benefits for ailments they claimed stemmed from flying aircraft contaminated by Agent Orange.
An outside panel of experts had already determined that the scientific evidence showed the vets were likely exposed to the toxic herbicide.
The scientists within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs agreed the airmen had a strong case. But they had a more calculated concern: If the VA doled out cash to these veterans, others might want it too, according to an internal document obtained by The Virginian-Pilot and ProPublica.
The group put their worries in writing. In a draft memo, they warned the secretary of Veterans Affairs that giving benefits to the airmen might prompt “additional pressure” from other veteran groups.
Such political and financial concerns aren’t supposed to play into decisions about Agent Orange benefits, veterans advocates and some legal experts say. Federal law requires that, in most cases, these decisions be guided strictly by science.
But an examination of two recent cases illustrates how dueling considerations of liability, responsibility and evolving scientific evidence weigh into VA deliberations.
“This shows what we’ve already suspected: At the VA, they’re more interested in politics, and protecting their turf and their bonuses, than fulfilling their mission to assist veterans,” said John Wells, a Louisiana lawyer who has spent more than a decade advocating for 90,000 Navy vets fighting for Agent Orange benefits.
VA officials say they are committed to making sure qualified vets get benefits, and they believe the law allows them to consider the ramifications of their decisions when weighing the eligibility of new groups.
“Considering second order effects of a decision does not in any way violate the Agent Orange Act,” the VA’s general counsel’s office wrote in response to questions.

How environmental pollutant dioxin alters brain development in mice

Dioxins are environmental pollutants that stay in the body for long periods of time because they can accumulate in fat tissue. They are mainly by-products of combustion and industrial processes. Long-term exposure to dioxins has been suspected to have a host of toxicities, causing health issues such as cancer and impairment of the immune system and the developing nervous system.
In the body, dioxin readily forms a complex with the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a transcription factor protein whose real function has yet to be clarified. The manifestations of dioxin toxicities require AhR. It was previously shown that adult rodents born to mice exposed to dioxins during pregnancy display cognitive and behavioral abnormalities. However, the underlying mechanisms of such manifestations have remained unclear.
In search of an answer, researchers centered at University of Tsukuba studied the possible effects of excessive activation of AhR signaling--a phenomenon thought to mimic the exposure of AhR to dioxins--on neurodevelopmental processes in mice, such as cellular migration and neurite growth. Their work was recently published in Scientific Reports.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Opinion: Agent Orange study needed

Fallout from the Vietnam War keeps coming.
Four decades later, that fallout is spilling over from the war’s veterans to succeeding generations: Serious, sometimes life-threatening diseases are cropping up in families of veterans who were exposed to the notorious exfoliant Agent Orange.
The herbicide was sprayed over the jungles of South Vietnam from 1962 until 1971, when a study linked a key compound in Agent Orange to
birth defects in lab animals.
Health problems cropped up eventually for many exposed veterans. Richard Noddings, an Army veteran from rural Wilber, Nebraska, survived 18 months in Vietnam. Now, at 64, he uses a walker and suffers from fibromyalgia and heart disease. “Eventually, realistically, Vietnam will kill me,” Noddings told World-Herald military writer Steve Liewer. “It’s just taking its damn sweet time doing it.”
The federal government took years to acknowledge and confirm links between Agent Orange and certain health problems in Vietnam veterans.
Now, as detailed in Liewer’s recent reporting, the Vietnam Veterans of America and other advocacy groups believe that a variety of birth defects, diseases and medical conditions being seen in male Vietnam veterans’ children and grandchildren are also tied to Agent Orange.
Family after family told Liewer heartbreaking stories about diabetes. Cleft palate. Multiple myeloma and other cancers. Nerve damage. Defective connective tissues. Fused, misshapen fingers and toes.
Army veteran Terry White remembers the birth of his daughter. “When (Christina) was born, the doctor examined her fingers, her toes, her mouth, everything,” he said. “She pointed it out to me, all the things that were wrong. I just sat down and cried.”
The problem: Research is scant to determine whether Agent Orange and other toxic substances used in the war are truly responsible for the health problems suffered by the children and grandchildren of male veterans.

Complaints that company wrongly denied VA medical benefits put contract on hold

A company founded by a former Veterans Affairs secretary has won a major share of more than $6 billion in agency contracts, even as the firm is being investigated on charges that it wrongly denied medical benefits to some veterans.
Winning the major share of a contract for medical exams was QTC Medical, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin that was founded by former VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi. Since selling his company in 2011, Principi's lobbying firm has taken on Lockheed as a client, specifically to deal with the VA and its need for medical exams.
The contract awarded to QTC of Diamond Bar, Calif., in late March is under challenge from multiple protests filed with the Government Accountability Office.
VA spokesman Henry Huntley said the new contract would be put on a 100-day hold while authorities examine the complaints. That hold, however, means that QTC will continue providing medical exams under its old contract.
Congressional lobbying records show Principi's firm, The Principi Group, registered as the lobbyist for Lockheed Martin in 2014.
In an email response to questions about his lobbying and the recent bids, Principi wrote, “I have not lobbied for QTC on its rebid nor do I have any knowledge or information on any of your other questions.”
Even as the bid was being awarded and protests filed, a House committee has launched its own probe into allegations that QTC routinely denied benefits to veterans suffering from the after-effects of exposure to Agent Orange.
A spokesman for Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, said an investigation is under way into allegations that QTC failed to properly evaluate veterans claiming disabilities from exposure to Agent Orange under an existing VA contract.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

House of Lies: Agent Orange and the Government’s Policy of Cover-up

The Department of Veterans Affairs has an image problem. Recently the VA has been vilified because its backlog of cases has grown to mindboggling levels. By July 2013, more than 600,000 veterans had been waiting more than 125 days, some of them for more than two years, to get the help they needed.
And while it’s no news flash that bureaucratic gears grind slowly (a problem, in this case, exacerbated by long-outdated computer processing systems), Peter Sills says there’s a lesser-known reason for the backlog: decades’ worth of government refusal to do the right thing.
What’s worse, he adds, this line of long-suffering veterans is a shameful testament to the government’s unofficial policy on veteran woes: lie, deny, and cover up.
“The long waiting list is actually a good news/bad news kind of thing,” says Sills, author of Toxic War: The Story of Agent Orange (Vanderbilt University Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-8265-1962-7, $39.95). “The good news is that after decades of stalling, the VA is finally granting benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and certain types of leukemia, on the grounds that their conditions may have been caused by exposure to military herbicides, such as Agent Orange. This means that hundreds of thousands of Vietnam vets have been added to the rolls and are finally getting the help they deserve.
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“The bad news is what came before—and what that says about our government and military,” he adds. “For decades, the VA refused to acknowledge that anyone could have been harmed by military herbicides used during the Vietnam War. It willfully ignored any and all evidence of that harm and then conducted its own research to prove these chemicals were safe—research that was intentionally flawed and that is largely disregarded today.”
In Toxic War, Sills describes the production and use of Agent Orange and other American poisons used in Vietnam and how the VA and the military, with the help of other federal agencies (including the White House), denied that these chemicals were capable of causing harm.