Monday, July 30, 2007

Agent Orange and other defoliants at a New Brunswick military base

FREDERICTON (CP) - Despite the threat of a possible lawsuit, Green party Leader Elizabeth May declined Thursday to retract comments she made about a report on the use of Agent Orange and other defoliants at a New Brunswick military base.

May said if she made any factual errors, she'll correct them - but she's confident that what she said was right. Elliot Sigal, executive vice-president of Intrinsik, the company that compiled the report, said the firm takes issue with comments May made during a speech in Halifax in June, the same week the company's health risk assessment was released.

Sigal suggested May's comments questioned the reputation of Intrinsik - formerly known as Cantox - and the quality of its work at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown.

The report concluded that the controversial defoliant spraying programs at the base posed almost no risk to the health of those who lived on or near the base.

However, the report also said potential, long-term health risks were identified for individuals directly involved with applying some of the defoliants or clearing treated brush soon after applications.

May said the company's criticism of her comments was very broad.

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"Their letter doesn't point out factual errors, it just repeats just about everything I've said and said it's all factually wrong," May said Thursday. "I'm checking and so far haven't found any."

May stressed that the study was actually a "health risk assessment," which means it was based on "hypothetical, mathematical modelling."

Sigal said the study speaks for itself.

"I think we were very up front about what we did and what we could do in that assessment," he said.

"It was hypothetical in that it was looking back at what happened up to 50 years ago. There are a number of other studies going on around base Gagetown to collect some of the information that she feels should have been collected. They are not being done by us, but they are being done as part of the overall assessment at CFB Gagetown."

Over several days in 1966 and 1967, the U.S. military carried out tests at the base on a number of defoliating agents, including Agent Orange.

The chemicals were widely applied during the Vietnam War to clear jungles and have since been linked to a number of human health problems, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia, soft-tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and chloracne.

In addition to the military tests, other herbicides have been used at the heavily forested base since it opened in the 1950s.

Veterans and contracted employees who worked on and around the base during the tests are seeking compensation from the federal government.

"It's not a good day for me when I'm not only threatened with a lawsuit, but somehow the media found out about it even before I had seen the letter from their lawyers," said May.

May said she hopes the matter won't end up in court.

"We requested that she retract her statements," Sigal said. "If she chooses not to, then we are looking at what our options are."

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