Soil Sampling Finds Trace Amounts of Agent Orange on Guam
During the Vietnam War, the United States sprayed millions of gallons of herbicides in Vietnam to destroy enemy cover and to interrupt the enemy’s food supply. Agent Orange was a mixture of two different kinds of highly toxic chemicals: 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. Today, we are aware of the significant health effects related to herbicide exposure. While Agent Orange is most commonly associated with Vietnam, there has been growing concern related to its use and storage in other locations, including Guam.
November 2018 GAO Report Addresses Agent Orange in Guam
In November 2018, the United States Government Accountability Officer (GAO) released a report focusing on the actions needed to improve the accuracy and communication of information regarding the use, testing, and storage locations of Agent Orange outside of Vietnam. The House report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 included a provision that GAO review the government’s handling of Agent Orange on Guam. To gather information, GAO reviewed agency policies, documents, and available archival records; interviewed Department of Defense (DoD), VA, and other agency officials; and met with a non-generalizable sample of 38 veterans and a Veterans Service Organization.
Available documentation indicated that at least one vessel carrying Agent Orange passed through Guam on its route to Vietnam, but such information is incomplete. Specifically, GAO analyzed the available logbooks for 152 of the 158 shipments (approximately 96 percent) of Agent Orange to Southeast Asia and found that the vessels carrying herbicides generally made stops at both foreign and U.S. ports. However, there is no evidence to show whether any cargo was offloaded. Therefore, while the documentation establishes that at least one ship carrying Agent Orange stopped in Guam, it does not explicitly state that it was used there. Importantly, DoD decided to move forward with testing for the acid form of the components of Agent Orange in Guam. Specifically, DoD with the US and Guam Environmental Protection Agencies conducted testing (field sampling and analysis) at Anderson Air Force Base on Guam.
Agent Orange Testing Results
The Guam and U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) collected samples from five subsites in off-base areas that were believed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. The final test results indicate that one sample does show traces of 2,4,5-T (component of Agent Orange) and 2,4,5-TP (a toxic chemical also known as silvex). The soil sample, labeled TY-02, was from Tiyan Junction, located near the southern edge of the A.B. Won Pat International Airport. However, the concentrations of these toxic chemicals did not exceed U.S. EPA screening levels. In other words, the results were at non-toxic levels. Officials stated that further results are still pending.
The updated findings also clarified results of earlier testing within Anderson Air Force Base. These samples were first collected in April 2018 and sent to two labs for testing. One lab found trace elements of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, thereby indicating the presence of the residual form of Agent Orange in the soils tested.
Service Connection Due to Agent Orange Exposure in Guam
The Agent Orange Act of 1991 required VA to create a presumption of exposure for which VA will presume that veterans who served in specific locations during defined timeframes were exposed to herbicides. Presumptions of exposure help replace the element of service connection that requires veterans to have an in-service event that caused their condition. In these instances, VA counts the in-service exposure as the event. VA presumes that veterans who served in the following locations during the specified timeframes were exposed to Agent Orange:
- Veterans with service in the Republic of Vietnam (i.e., boots on the ground veterans, Brown Water veterans, and Blue Water veterans) between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975
- In or near the Korean DMZ between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971
- Active duty reservist personnel who had regular contact with C-123 aircraft between 1969 and 1986.
Importantly, VA does not currently offer a presumption of exposure or service connection for Vietnam-era veterans who served in Guam. These veterans can still apply for service connection on a direct basis, but must prove first that they were exposed to herbicides during service, and that their current condition is related to their exposure to Agent Orange. The recent findings may serve as additional forms of evidence for veterans trying to establish exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Guam. Many veterans are hopeful that these results will prompt VA to consider the possibility of extending the presumption.
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