Part IV of our veterans’ exposure to herbicides during the Vietnam War
DEFOLIANTS DUMPED ON PEOPLE AND INTO WATER SUPPLIES
In addition to the planned dumps of herbicides, accidental and intentional dumps of defoliants over populated areas and into the water supplies was not unusual, according to government documents.
A memorandum for the record dated October 31, 1967, and signed by Col. W.T. Moseley, chief of MACV's Chemical Operations Division, reported an emergency dump of herbicide far from the intended target. At approximately 1120 hours, October 29, 1967, aircraft #576 made an emergency dump of herbicide in Long Khanh Province due to failure of one engine and loss of power in the other. Approximately 1,000 gallons of herbicide WHITE were dumped from an altitude of 2,500 feet. No mention was made of wind speed or direction, but chemicals dropped from that height had the potential to drift a long way.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in the summer of 1968 sent a letter to the Secretaries of State and Defense urging a study to determine the ecological effects of herbicide spraying in Vietnam. That letter prompted a cable from Secretary of State Dean Rusk to the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. The cable, dated August 26, 1968, sought additional information but informed embassy officials of the tactic State was going to take in its reply to the AAAS. "The Department of State's proposed reply notes that the limited investigations of the ecological problem which have been conducted by agencies of the USG thus far have failed to reveal serious ecological disturbances, but acknowledges that the long-term effect of herbicides can be determined definitively only by long-term studies." Rusk suggested releasing "certain non-sensitive" portions of a study on the ecological effects of herbicide spraying in Vietnam done earlier that year by Dr. Fred H. Tschirley, then assistant chief of the Corps Protection Research Branch, Corps Research Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Maryland. Tschirley went to Vietnam under the auspices of the State Department early in 1968 and returned with exactly the report the U.S. government and the chemical companies wanted.
Tschirley foresaw no long-term ecological impact on Vietnam as a result of the herbicide spraying. In addition, in his report of April 1968, later reprinted in part in the February 21, 1969 issue of Science magazine, Tschirley exonerated the chemical companies. "There is no evidence," Tschirley wrote, "to suggest that the herbicides used in Vietnam will cause toxicity problems for man or animals."
Rusk urged that Tschirley's report be made public. What Rusk did not mention was that Tschirley's report had been heavily edited, in essence changing its findings.