The Ontario government has released a
report concluding that some pesticide applicators in Ontario
were exposed to dangerous levels of Agent Orange
between 1948 and 1979— the same chemical used to
defoliate the jungle during the Vietnam War. Although most Agent
Orange was used by municipalities, the study was a provincial one
and limited to provincial employees. Of these, some Hydro,
road and forestry workers may have been exposed to up to 700 times
the current safe level of herbicides. Long term municipal and
private pesticide applicators may have had similar exposures. Such
increase the risk of a number of serious diseases. Those
now invited to apply for Worker Safety Insurance Board
In essence, the report confirms that some Ministry of Natural
Resources, Ministry of Transportation and Ontario Hydro employees,
who were involved in mixing, loading, and applying
herbicides, were likely exposed regularly to TCDD-contaminated
2,4,5-T for long periods, far above recommended safe thresholds of
exposure. This exposure may or may not have resulted in serious
adverse health effects, although certain cancers are known to be
associated with exposure to these pesticides.
The report was commissioned after articles in the Toronto Star in
2011. My father complained about the same health risks to the
government forty years ago, but was ignored. The conventional
wisdom then was that herbicides were inherently safe for people and
animals, despite what had happened in Vietnam.
Unlike the massive health impacts in Vietnam, the report
concluded that few Ontario bystanders are likely to have received
toxic levels of the herbicide from provincial government spraying.
No one has assessed the likely impact of municipal and private
spraying in Ontario, but no Canadian uses of Agent Orange were
comparable to the massive, sustained attacks on forests and food
crops in Vietnam. On the other hand, the report again demonstrates
the folly of relying blindly on the pesticide regulatory system to
prevent all adverse effects to people and the environment.
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