Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Chemicals, mergers, agriculture and all of us

We can predict our future by our inability to think outside the current task, by clinging to practices that have been proven by a better way, by our apathy, ignorance and sometimes stubborn belligerence. We can also take some good things, too far. We all can do this.
One of these practices that is impacting our future world is the use of synthetic chemicals. Many of the synthetic chemicals for agriculture exploded in use after our nation’s wars like Atrazine (first registered for use in 1959) and Agent Orange (or 2, 4-D) that was used in Vietnam. Some of these synthetic chemicals disrupted many of the historic practices of rotating crops that helped curtail weeds and build up soil naturally.
The synthetic chemicals used in agriculture and some lawn care is a difficult subject to discuss because it’s so broad, diverse and impacts so many – especially here in agriculture country. It’s almost a religious exercise, you either believe in chemicals or you do not – no room for any discussion in many circles. So, as I always do when I decide to venture out into subjects like these, I pause somewhere in the middle of that “religion.” I consider those I know who work for chemical companies. I also consider the farmers. I consider them; but, I also prayerfully keep writing because I am compelled by what’s happening in the bigger picture that impacts all our farms and our entire world. It’s an impact far greater than even the most recent Roundup® resistant weed.
The American Agriculture Movement (AAM) held their grand opening of the AAM History Exhibit in January of this year at none other than the Bayer Museum of Agriculture in Lubbock, Texas. In other news, on a bigger scale, this past year has also brought much talk around the Bayer-Monsanto merger. The irony perhaps, is that many of the farmers in the AAM movement most likely opposed the merger of the two companies.

Silence from U.S. as defoliants quietly destroy Okinawan children’s futures

In 1981, Lt. Col. Kris E. Roberts, then head of maintenance at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, discovered dozens of barrels of hazardous waste — some believed to contain Agent Orange — buried on the installation, a story first reported in 2012 in The Japan Times (bit.ly/okinawaaovet) In 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs ruled he had been exposed to hazardous chemicals and awarded him compensation (bit.ly/okinawaaocomp) The U.S. government continues to deny Vietnam War-era defoliants were ever stored on Okinawa.

Becoming a U.S. Marine Corps officer is a privilege that very few have the honor of earning. However, with that privilege comes awesome responsibilities.
Being a Marine Corps officer is far more than successfully accomplishing the mission — even more important is the welfare of the people you are responsible for. They are your family — and for me, this includes the Okinawan workers with whom I worked at MCAS Futenma more than 35 years ago.
As a young officer I was taught that effective leadership means doing the right thing at the right time. You do that by asking three important questions: “Is it legal, is it moral and is it ethical?” If any of the answers is “No,” you do not do it.
On that day 36 years ago when we discovered row after row of barrels of hazardous chemicals buried on MCAS Futenma, everything I learned about Marine Corps leadership was forever changed. At least three senior officers engaged in a cover-up and decided to place their careers over the welfare of the men and women I was responsible for. Worse yet, in 2013, when the U.S. Department of Defense financed an investigation into Agent Orange on Okinawa, the report’s author failed to interview myself or others.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Antimicrobial chemicals cause more harm than they’re worth

The world is filled with harmful germs. If we allowed them to infect us, it would surely lead to illness. While this usually means getting a cold or the flu, it is still something we would rather avoid. Thankfully, the introduction of antimicrobial products in recent years has not only promised to mitigate germ exposure, but also our fears of contracting illnesses.

Chemicals with antimicrobial properties can be found in soaps, toiletries, toys, and even yoga mats. But these industrial substances designed to keep us safe have been raising serious concerns for researchers and scientists alike. 
Health and environment concerns regarding the chemicals triclosan and triclocarban are widespread, gaining the attention of more than 200 scientists and medical professionals around the globe.
“Triclosan is a case study of the many things that can go wrong when formulating consumer products. To start out with, it’s a chemical that contains dioxin—a potent toxic carcinogen. When you use the chemical, it is mostly ineffective in protecting from germs and instead actually may increase microbial risks by producing bacteria that are cross-resistant to antibiotics your doctor prescribes to save lives. It increases susceptibility to allergies. When released into water or soil, it persists for long periods of time and forms additional dioxins. When it is burned, it produces the most toxic forms of dioxin known.
Triclocarban, another one of these antimicrobial compounds, contains other potent cancer-causing chemicals called chloroanilines.
What is most disturbing is that these supposed antimicrobial chemicals added to our products provide no additional health benefits when compared to using soap and water for handwashing.

Bordallo wants Agent Orange provision in Defense Act

Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo announced provisions related to Agent Orange use on Guam, unexploded ordnance and the former Ship Repair Facility were included in the Subcommittee on Readiness's portion of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2018. 
The full markup has been reported to the House Armed Services Committee, which will review it next week. 
Bordallo, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, issued a news release highlighting a provision requiring the Comptroller General and Government Accountability Office independently review the federal government's handling of Agent Orange on Guam. 
Due to persistent questions "about the use of locations on Guam as a transshipment point for Agent Orange intended for use in Vietnam," the GAO must submit a findings report to the House Committee by March 22, 2018. 
"I continue to be dissatisfied with the (Defense Department's) lack of evidence to support their assertion that these toxins were never present on Guam, especially in light of information provided by members of our community and former service members," Bordallo said.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Report from the National Birth Defect Registry: Birth Defects in Vietnam Veterans' Children

Agent Orange was a combination of two defoliants, 2-4-5-T and 2-4-D, contaminated by Dioxin (TCDD), a toxic by-product of the chemical production process. Over 19 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed in Vietnam between 1962 - 1971 to destroy crops and ground cover. The current scientific evidence argues not only that dioxin is a potent carcinogen, but that it appears to have more profound non-cancer health and environmental hazard effects that include reproductive, developmental and immunological effects. Dioxin appears to act like a persistent synthetic hormone interfering with important physiological signaling systems that can lead to altered cell development, differentiation and regulation. This National Birth Defects Registry report shows the differences in structural and functional birth defects in 1457 children of Vietnam veterans compared to 3131 children of non-veterans in the registry.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

High school student takes Bronze for Orange documentary

WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY
Jake Blum, a Senior at Howard High School in Ellicott City, Maryland took home a Bronze Medal in National History Day competition for his documentary,  
"Beyond the Shadow of Agent Orange: Veterans Stand for Justice."
Beyond the Shadow of Agent Orange: Veterans Stand for Justice
I recently competed in the national level of the National History Day competition for my documentary project and was fortunate enough to place third in the nation. I wanted to personally thank you for your support of my film.
For the competition, I created a ten-minute documentary addressing the theme of “Taking a Stand.” You provided me with valuable information, and I would have loved to extend the documentary to include more of everyone I interviewed if there had not been a time limit.
Below is a link to the film. It was a great experience to speak with those involved in my topic.

VA chief withdraws Staab appeal, vows to replace ‘IU’ pay cut

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin made two surprise announcements Wednesday before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that should relieve some financial stress for more than 600,000 veterans.

First, Shulkin said he was dropping VA’s appeal of the Staab case decided last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Only last week he said Staab had been wrongly decided, exposing VA to at least $2 billion in veteran claims for outside emergency care, money VA needed to provide promised services.
Pulling the appeal means VA intends to begin covering private-sector emergency care for any VA-enrolled veteran, even if they have alternative health insurance that pays part of their emergency care costs. As many as 370,000 veterans with pending claims could benefit too, explained Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., who thanked Shulkin for changing his mind. Shulkin said Rounds and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., were right to sharply criticize the decision to appeal.
Shulkin’s second surprise Wednesday was to tell Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., he will work with Congress to find a less hurtful way to fund his Choice replacement plan, CARE, than by administratively ending Individual Unemployability (IU) eligibility next year for 208,000 seriously disabled veterans age 62 or older.
IU allows veterans with VA disability ratings of 60 percent to 90 percent to receive enhanced compensation because they are unable to work. IU qualifies veterans to receive disability pay as if they were 100 percent disabled. It adds an average of $1,600 to their monthly payments, a VA official told senators.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Congressmen reintroduce Agent Orange Reconciliation Act

WASHINGTON, DC – Last night, Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02) and Congressman Charlie Dent (R-PA) reintroduced the Agent Orange Reconciliation Act of 2017 (H.R. 2891) in an effort to help heal the post-conflict, human cost of war by caring for children living with Spina Bifida due to a Vietnam veteran parent’s exposure to Agent Orange. 
Spina Bifida requires costly surgeries and extensive medical care because of potential paralysis resulting from damage to the spinal cord. The Agent Orange Reconciliation Act of 2017 would fill gaps in the Agent Orange Benefits Act (Public Law 104-204) by providing a one-time retroactive monetary payment to the families with children enduring with Spina Bifida to compensate for treatment of related symptoms from birth until the date benefits under the original Act were first received.
“Our legislation would provide necessary relief for those Vietnam veterans' children suffering with Spina Bifida due to Agent Orange," said Congressman Bishop. "These veterans and their families have been left with the cost of years of medical care directly attributable to the veteran’s wartime service. We owe it to our veterans to care for them and their families, and this legislation would help do just that.” 
“I’m honored to join my good friend and colleague, Congressman Bishop, in this appropriate effort to provide well-deserved support to these long-suffering families,” added Congressman Dent.  “It is my hope that this bipartisan measure will move forward in order to assist the children of our Vietnam veterans who have faced the effects of Spina Bifida as a result of their parents’ honorable service.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

ProPublica Hammers VA Over Recent Agent Orange Science Rejection

Today, ProPublica hammered a key VA official who denies the harm caused by use of dangerous toxins commonly referred to as Agent Orange.

Assertions Of VA Agent Orange Denier Jim Sampsel
The testimony was presented last March to the committee in an effort to explain why VA denies to many claims related to the herbicide, “When it comes to Agent Orange, the facts don’t always matter.” Sampsel continued, “So we have to deal with the law as written.”

Commenting on testimony provided to a VA advisory committee, lead analyst Jim Sampsel, dismissed present concerns over Agent Orange exposure, calling it “hype” and “hysteria” not based on “science.”
This curious given the longstanding obstruction VA and DoD have engaged in regarding the effects of herbicides using in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War including massive redactions of evidence and voodoo science to support the interests of Monsanto, the two companies responsible for manufacturing the toxin.
Much of the research in the past that I reviewed, which is part of the Alvin Young Collection, focused on impacts of dioxin exposure at normal levels. This assumption fails to account for the military’s use of the dioxin in highly concentrated forms to function as a chemical weapon, according to Russian research published at the time. (more on this below)
The collection consists of much of the research reviewed by US Air Force’s supposed subject matter expert Alvin Young, PhD. He went on to deny the harm caused by herbicides used in Vietnam and testified as a hired gun expert for Dow and Monsanto when the companies were sued by Vietnam veterans decades ago.

Veterans Affairs Official Downplays Agent Orange Risks, Questions Critics

At a meeting in March, a lead analyst in the VA’s compensation service was critical of the media, scientists and the VA’s own administrative tribunal for taking positions that differ from his. The VA said his comments “did not fully or accurately reflect VA’s position” but also said his quotes were being taken out of context. 
A key federal official who helps adjudicate claims by veterans who say they were exposed to Agent Orange has downplayed the risks of the chemical herbicide and questioned the findings of scientists, journalists and even a federal administrative tribunal that conflict with his views.
Jim Sampsel, a lead analyst within the Department of Veterans Affairs’ compensation service, told a VA advisory committee in March that he believes much of the renewed attention to Agent Orange — used during the Vietnam War to kill brush and deny cover to enemy troops — is the result of media “hype” and “hysteria,” according to a transcript of the meeting released to ProPublica.
“When it comes to Agent Orange, the facts don’t always matter,” said Sampsel, himself a Vietnam veteran who also handles Gulf War-related illness questions. “So we have to deal with the law as written.”
Part of Sampsel’s job entails reviewing evidence to determine whether a veteran or group of veterans came in contact with Agent Orange outside of Vietnam. By law, veterans are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if they served or stepped foot in Vietnam; they have to prove exposure if they served at sea or in another country during the war. They also must have a disease that the VA ties to exposure to the herbicide.
“From my point of view, I will do anything to help veterans, any legitimate veteran, and I’ve done it plenty of times,” he told the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation, a group that advises the VA. “Unfortunately when it comes to this Agent Orange, we have to have a lot of denials.”

2017 Gulf War Newsletter

The latest release of the yearly Gulf War Newsletter features current research efforts on the health of Gulf War Veterans, information on fibromyalgia, news on presumptive service connection for Camp Lejeune Veterans, and more.  Read this newsletter at https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/publications/gulf-war/gulf-war-winter-2017/

Expedition Orange Update

KINGMAN – Cliff Romberger served in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971 and died in 2015 of a brain disease as a result of exposure to Agent Orange.
He was a lifelong horseman and never fulfilled his last bucket list item: to ride coast to coast on horseback. His son is now fulfilling that wish.
Colt Romberger, a U.S. Air Force and Iraq War veteran, is carrying his father’s ashes as part of Expedition Orange, a 3,000-mile ride to raise awareness and honor Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure. He’s also on a mission to get other Vietnam War veterans, and their families, to open up about how Agent Orange has affected their lives.
He made a stop in Kingman Friday before taking a three-week break for rest and repairs.
“Before my dad died he said ‘More for them, less for me,’” Romberger said. “I think what he meant by that was to raise awareness for everyone.”
He started the trek May 1 on Sunset Boulevard and the Pacific Coast Highway north of Santa Monica, California. He hooked up on Route 66 in Pasadena and followed the Mother Road all the way to the California and Nevada side of U.S. Highway 95, ultimately riding into Laughlin and on through Golden Valley.
Romberger, road foreman Kenny Reichel and Gus, his Steel Dust-bred quarter horse, stayed the night at the Mohave County Fairgrounds after a grueling three-day trek from Bullhead City to Golden Valley through the Black Mountains.
“I had to lead (Gus) 2 miles up a hill,” Romberger said. “I was literally holding him with one hand and climbing up a hill with the other.”