Air Force Reserve members who flew C-123 aircraft after they
were used for spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam were exposed to the toxic
herbicide and may be at risk for developing related diseases, according
to a federal study released Friday.
An Institute of
Medicine scientific panel comprised of public health experts stated
"with confidence" that some of the 1,500 to 2,100 Air Force Reserve
personnel who flew on C-123s after the war were exposed to chemical
levels that exceed health guidelines for workers.
they may face increased risk for developing illnesses associated with
exposure to the components of Agent Orange, according to the study.
findings — from a group led by Harvard Public Health expert Robert
Herrick — are a hard-fought victory for a small group of former service
members who have lobbied for years to be included among those presumed
to be exposed to Agent Orange as a result of their military service.
by retired Air Force Maj. Wes Carter, the members of the C-123 Veterans
Association have pushed the Veterans Affairs Department to recognize
illnesses they've developed and say are related to exposure.
VA consistently has maintained that trace amounts of dioxin on the
metal surfaces in the aircraft, which were stripped of their spraying
apparatus after the war, would not pose a threat to troops because it is
not "biologically available for skin absorption or inhalation."
VA's stand, according to the department's C-123 exposure website is
that "although residual TCDD — the toxic substance in Agent Orange — may
be detected in C-123 aircraft by sophisticated laboratory techniques
many years after its use, the [VA] concluded that the existing
scientific studies and reports support a low probability that TCDD was
biologically available in these aircraft. Therefore, the potential for
exposure to TCDD from flying or working in contaminated C-123 aircraft
years after the Vietnam War is unlikely to have occurred at levels that
could affect health."
But according to Carter and the Vietnam
Veterans of America, at least 10 C-123 crewmen who flew in the aircraft
after the war have died of cancers commonly linked to Agent Orange.