Daily News Archive
October 11, 2006
Ignores Cancer Data on Agent Orange
(Beyond Pesticides, October 11, 2006) Scientists who
worked on a 25-year study of the impact of handling Agent Orange on
the health of Air Force veterans says the Air Force left out evidence
showing significant cancer effects. Joel Michalek, Ph.D., a statistician
who worked on the study from the beginning and was its principal investigator
for 14 years until he left in April, cited problems with the control
group and said he found significant rates of cancer in both the Ranch
Hand group, named after a corresponding Vietnam spraying mission, and
its comparison group. Dr. Michalek’s conclusions, published in
two articles in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
in 2004 and 2005, were not included in the Air Force's $140 million
final report on Agent Orange's impact on veterans' health.
Ronald Trewyn, Ph.D.,
biochemist at Kansas State University, and member of the Ranch Hand
study advisory committee, reviewed the cancer chapter for that last
report and argued that it should include data Dr. Michalek used to write
the 2004 and 2005 articles. "They referenced those papers, but
they left all the data out from those cancer papers that were done that
showed the cancer effects."
Dr. Trewyn continued,
"It's huge because then the conclusion is there's no cancer effect
when as part of the study, the same investigators, just analyzing the
data in a different way, found that when they did that, low and behold,
then there were significant cancer effects. And so for the final report
to say there's no cancer effect when the investigators themselves published
papers saying there is a cancer effect, that's just flat scientifically
The Air Force reports spraying an estimated 368 pounds of the defoliant
over the leafy jungles of Vietnam over a six-year period in an effort
to expose enemy supply lines, sanctuaries and bases. Airmen were exposed
to the sweet-smelling herbicide during spraying flights, while loading
the chemical and while performing maintenance on the aircraft and the
spraying equipment. But Dr. Michalek says the exposure was wider because
the defoliant was used to clear land for bases as well as for combat-related
Since 1982, the Air Force's study has involved examining 1,000 "Ranch
Handers" who handled the defoliant or came into contact with it,
and about 2,000 other Air Force personnel not involved in the operation.
Subjects were monitored every three to five years. The last report,
based on testing done in 2002, concluded that the study "did not
suggest an adverse relation between cancer and herbicide exposure."
However, Dr. Michalek said more research needs to be done to determine
whether airmen used as the control group in the study were also exposed
to the chemical, and to figure out what other diseases the Air Force
scientists may have missed because of the exposed comparison group.
"That process was under way when I left ... to look at the exposure
among members of the control group," Dr. Michalek told the Associated
Press this month.
The Air Force said
the study initially tried to compare the airmen who participated in
spraying missions to a group not stationed in Southeast Asia, but there
were not enough people to do that. The Air Force also said an earlier
study of Agent Orange exposure showed that "current blood levels
of dioxin in the vast majority of men who served as ground troops in
Vietnam are indistinguishable from levels in the blood of similar veterans
who did not serve in Vietnam." Dioxins are chemical compounds formed
from various processes, including certain types of chemical manufacturing,
such as making Agent Orange.
A Department of Veterans Affairs analysis in 1998 found that 5,908 claims
for compensation related to Agent Orange had been approved out of 92,276
claims filed by veterans and their survivors. That was before diabetes
was added to the list of diseases connected to Agent Orange, said Jim
Benson, a spokesman for the Veteran Affairs Department.
Agent Orange is
a 50-50 mixture of the herbicides 2,4-D
and 2,4,5-T. All uses for 2,4,5-T were cancelled in 1985, however, 2,4-D
is still one of the most widely used herbicides on lawns, school grounds
ACTION: Avoid hazardous pesticides produced by Dow, a
company which had manufactured Agent Orange, by rejecting their products.
Look for the Dow label on consumer products, including such items as
pesticides, bathroom cleaners, kitchen cleaners and furniture polish.
For more information, see Beyond Pesticides' Dow
Chemical Consumer Campaign.