Officials dispute claim of Agent Orange at Chanute
RANTOUL — A member of the Chanute Restoration Advisory Board told those attending this month's quarterly meeting that Agent Orange was present at one time on base.
Doug Rokke — a retired Army major who served in Vietnam and the first Gulf War and obtained a Ph.D. in education from the University of Illinois — said he has a contact who worked at Chanute in the 1960s and sprayed the defoliant on the base by Hangar 3, other hangars and along Officers Row.
Rokke said his source, who later was revealed to be Michael Glasser of Florida, told him he buried Agent Orange by Heritage Lake.
However, Paul Carroll, the environmental coordinator for the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, said the issue has been brought up before "in a report" of burial in either Landfill 2 or 3.
"The report from some interview during the investigation process indicated there may be drums of Agent Orange or Agent Orange constituents that were buried in the landfill in one time," Carroll said. "That wasn't verified. We don't know if that was Agent Orange.
"The constituents of the chemicals that were in Agent Orange were sampled for in the landfill, and that's when we found there were some very low levels, but they weren't at levels that would pose a human health risk, and the landfill is keeping that chemical, whatever it is, from migrating."
Carroll said the Air Force has investigated 80 sites on the base after the report.
"We monitor the situation and that's what we've done there," Carroll said. "We haven't been able to locate any components of Agent Orange on the base at levels that would require cleanup."
Chris Hill, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency project manager of Chanute, said this wasn't the first time he or his agency has heard this concern. Years ago, Hill said, an individual contacted him saying Agent Orange was used on the base.
"We looked into that," Hill said. "There's certain contaminants associated with Agent Orange that the Air Force is already testing for anyway in certain pesticides. When we looked at the data comprehensively, we didn't see anything that suggested an Agent Orange disposal area or if there was widespread use of it.
"We continue to be mindful of people coming forward in the past and look at the data coming in. It doesn't mean that something wasn't buried in one of the landfills or even used at some point, but we haven't seen anything that suggests any systematic use of it."
Hill said the Illinois EPA will continue to monitor any information that comes forward.
Rokke told the board during the meeting his source, whom Rokke said declined to be identified, met him and other people in Rantoul in early June.
"He met with several of us and provided us with documentation," Rokke said. "He said he contacted the EPA, who blew him off. The same thing happened to me with my conversation with the EPA office in Champaign. He raised a concern because Agent Orange was deliberately and willfully used on Chanute Air Force Base. The individual who did it provided the documentation. He has a 100 percent disability as a result of his personal use of Agent Orange. That whole question came up. That's something we need to look up and investigate."
Rokke said he could get Carroll and the others in contact with that individual and go from there.
"It's a question that's been raised, and the best thing to do is now we have to look into it," Rokke said. "If there's no concern, we're in hog heaven. But if his concerns and what evidence he has provides awareness or concern to look into it, then we need to step into that direction."
After the meeting, Rokke said Mayor Chuck Smith and Village Administrator Bruce Sandahl didn't meet with his source.
Rokke told the Rantoul Press the reason Agent Orange hasn't been tested for on the base was because it was buried off base at Heritage Lake.
The Rantoul Press called the source on Saturday after Rokke provided the contact information. The veteran, who revealed he was Glasser, released his veteran's disability paper, waiving his doctor-patient privilege. In the documents, the Department of Veterans Affairs Board of Veterans Appeals states that "he has cancer of the bladder, prostate and urethra as a result of exposure to hazardous chemicals during service" as an apprentice engineer entomology specialist in the Civil Engineering Insect and Rodent Control Division from November 1963 until his discharge in May 1964.
The document said "he claims that he was exposed to hazardous chemicals and used insecticides, such as DDT, malathion, diazinon, benzene, chlordane, proidine and Agent Orange."
Glasser was disappointed that Smith and Sandahl didn't meet with him.
"It's really disappointing to me that they wouldn't even talk to me because I'm a veteran who served in their community; to see if I was even credible," Glasser said. "If it's true, there's a danger to the community. I feel that their lack of response is a failure in their fiduciary duty to the community that elected them and pays their salaries."
Smith said he called Glasser twice, including leaving a detailed voice message on Monday morning.
"I want to have a conversation, but it's hard if I can't get into contact with him," Smith said.
Last week, the Rantoul Press asked Carroll for a copy of the Agent Orange report that's on file. Carroll said he would call back and provide a copy. However, Chad Starr, public affairs officer with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, called instead and said Carroll would release a response "as soon as we can."
Starr released a statement later that afternoon that states:
"The document does not state 'Agent Orange' was disposed but does discuss the possibility, based on interviews with base personnel in or around 1983, that four 55-gallon drums of the two herbicides, 2,4-dicholorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and/or 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) may have been buried at Landfill 2 or Landfill 3."
Those two compounds are present in Agent Orange, as stated on the Monsanto Co. website. Monsanto was a manufacturer of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Starr also released a report titled the "Final Focused Feasibility Study for Landfills from November 1999." In the 184-page study, the Air Force tested for 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in the surface soil in 14 out of 36 sites and in the subsurface soil in 15 out of 40 sites.
Andrew Mason, public information officer of the Illinois EPA, emailed the Rantoul Press last week stating the Department of Defense did not list Agent Orange usage at any Illinois site, and if the Air Force has the same conclusion, then "please understand where I'm coming from when I say that running a story that even suggests the possibility of something like Agent Orange being present will create a lot of confusion and concern that is not warranted, nor backed up by any evidence IEPA is aware of."
Agent Orange background
Agent Orange, a code name for an orange-striped barrel, is a mixture of herbicides that was sprayed during the Vietnam War from 1961-71 to defoliate the forest areas so aircraft could target the Viet Cong while destroying crops that might feed the enemy.
According to the Monsanto Co.'s website, a manufacturer of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, the chemical contains a 50/50 mixture of unpurified butyl esters of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T). The byproduct of the chemical reaction creates dioxin (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin or TCDD), an extremely toxic chemical even in small dosages.
The Associated Press has reported that Agent Orange has caused adverse health effects to many Vietnamese, including cancer and severe birth defects. The Air Force sprayed mass quantities at the Eglin Air Force Base Reservation in Florida (1962-70), according to a Vietnam Veterans of America article.
"Agent Orange is never degradable," Restoration Advisory Board member Doug Rokke said. "It could still come out even if it's buried."
According to a Veterans Today article titled "Agent Orange: A Deadly Legacy" (Aug. 20, 2012), "Dioxin remains toxic for decades. It's not water soluble or easily degradable. It contaminates soil, foliage, air and water. It can be inhaled, absorbed through skin, or gain bodily entry through eyes, ears, or other cavity passages. It enters the food chain. Crops, plants, animals, and sea life are poisoned."
Chanute was labeled a Priority SuperFund site by the U.S. EPA in December 2000 after excavation proved there were volatile organic compounds, with dioxin being one of them.