By Hank Campbell — September 24, 2018I am writing today about a woman you may never have heard of - but she was a hero of science, and I want to share her story.
Professor Mike Newton worked at Oregon State University for 58 years, published almost 400 papers, and was, in his words, a very healthy guinea pig after voluminous and nearly continuous exposure to compounds like Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, which the science community calls TCDD and activists simply call "dioxin" in their fundraising campaigns.
I got to know him(1) after we published a piece on continual dioxin hype in our Priorities magazine and he read it and wrote me a nice email about his studies on human skin absorption of 2,4,5-T and the half-life of 2,4,5-T acid in the body (23 hours, I learned). He told me he evaluated the concentration of TCDD in wildlife (Aplodontia rufa, the mountain beaver, and Odocoileus hemionis, the blacktailed deer) whose habitats were sprayed at operational rates used in forest weed control. No symptoms from 2,4,5-T or TCDD were detected, he noted. All fine science, but that dioxin horse is not going back in the barn, statisticians beat scientists there.(2)
Then an email told me something really fascinating. In 1972, he was asked by the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the effects of herbicides in Vietnam. Most of you know now they were talking about Agent Orange (and White - Picloram/2,4-D). He was the field guy and created hundreds of sprayed plots at various rates including the 3 gallons per acre rate of the undiluted defoliants. With a backpack sprayer connected to a spray boom, he experimented in vegetable gardens, rice paddies, mangrove wetlands, forests, inland and coastal areas, you name it, anything that might have been exposed to the chemicals.
Then he wrote the report.
He literally wrote the book on Agent Orange, I realized.(3) Why didn't he lead with that? That is the nature of scientists, of course. Most are too humble.(4)
But he was passionate about one thing. His wife Jane. In our correspondence and phone conversation she came up numerous times.