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#1 2011-03-12 07:36:06

Registered: 2008-02-06
Posts: 416

Ontario launches first government-wide review of Agent Orange in Canad

What's believed to be Canada's first government-wide review of Agent Orange is being launched in Ontario.

Toxicology expert Dr. Leonard Ritter will lead an independent panel that will investigate Ontario's use of the now-banned herbicide 2,4,5-T over three decades, the province announced Friday.

It's also urging Ottawa and other provinces and territories to do the same, given that the chemical a dioxin-laced compound of Agent Orange was federally approved until 1985.

"I would love the federal government to come on board," Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey said in an interview. "We've reached out to them and it's not too late. I understand that they were the body that approved this particular herbicide for municipalities and provinces across Canada. I think we're all in this together."

Ontario's governing Liberals have acknowledged that Agent Orange was "widely used" in the province, and warned that it may have been used elsewhere in the country.

"We know it was used in B.C., New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as Saskatchewan," Jeffrey said. "The first three provinces it was used in forestry, and in Saskatchewan it was used in the agricultural sector not in food production."

Government officials in Nova Scotia couldn't confirm Friday whether 2,4,5-T was used, saying they needed more time to research the matter.

A spokesman for the Forest Products Association of Nova Scotia said he wasn't aware of the chemical's use in that province.

"It's the first time I've heard of it," executive director Steve Talbot said.

A mixture of two chemicals 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T was used in Ontario during the 1950s, '60s, '70s and possibly the '80s to control growth along provincial highways, transmission lines, vast tracts of Crown land and possibly along railway lines.

Farmers and municipalities also used the chemical, though not on crops, Jeffrey said.

The combination of those two herbicides in equal parts comprise Agent Orange, the most widely used defoliant in the Vietnam War.

2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacedic acid was approved by Health Canada at the time, but it's now known that exposure can lead to skin disorders, liver problems and certain cancers.

Former Ontario government workers have come forward saying they were exposed to the chemical and have suffered health problems as a result.

In the wake of those claims, the Ontario government started its own internal investigation and set up hotlines that received hundreds of calls over the last few weeks.

The new fact-finding panel will investigate the "scope and scale" of the use of 2,4,5-T by Ontario government ministries and agencies, as well as its potential impact on health, Jeffrey said.

The panel will determine when, where and how the herbicide was used, prepared and stored, as well as whether exposure to 2,4,5-T may have affected people's health.

Jeffrey said she hopes private companies who used the herbicide will also help the panel in its work.

Ritter, a university professor and executive director of the Canadian Network of Toxicology Centres, will have the full-time job of managing, directing and overseeing the daily activities of the panel. He will be assisted by part-time members and support staff.

Ritter worked extensively on the federal government's investigation into the use of Agent Orange at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, the government noted.

In 2007, Ottawa made $20,000 ex-gratia payments available to people whose health may have been harmed by the spraying of Agent Orange at Gagetown.

Ritter held a number of positions at Health Canada before joining the University of Guelph, and received a medal from the World Health Organization for his work, the province said.

The panel has been asked to deliver a final report by June 2012, which Jeffrey promised will be made public.

"I am concerned and I understand that people across Ontario are," she said.

"We want to give them as much information, because I think when you're worried, information does help you make decisions."

Northern Ontario New Democrat Gilles Bisson, who's received dozens of calls from former forestry and transportation workers possibly affected by Agent Orange, argues the investigation won't be truly independent.

Like Gagetown, it appears the Ontario government is structuring the investigation to limit its own liability rather than providing answers to affected families, he said.

"It was the Ministry of Natural Resources that used these chemicals, and they're setting the terms of reference on how we're going to study the effects of these chemicals on people," he said.

"So I can't see this as being very comforting for families."

Jeffrey said the panel was given broad terms of reference so that it could be independent.

"I want them to think freely," she said.

"When they come up against something that they don't want the answer to, I want them to keep going and ask those questions."

Progressive Conservative Steve Clark said he feels for worried families who will have to wait almost two years to find out the truth.

"It's of the utmost importance that we do move fast," he said.

"My heart goes out to families. I think we need to have some answers. And as legislators, I think we need to move as quickly as possible to work towards some answers."

With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

You Can't Fix Stupid!



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