Agent Orange Investigations at Base Gagetown
December 13, 2018 – Base Gagetown – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces
Agent Orange is an unregistered herbicide and chemical defoliant that was created by the U.S. military in the 1960s for U.S. military brush control and vegetation management. For three days in June 1966 and four days in June 1967, Agent Orange, Agent Purple, Agent White, and other herbicides were sprayed by the U.S. military at 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown to test their effectiveness for vegetation management. These tests were conducted with the permission of Canada, and are the only known instances in which Agent Orange was tested on CAF property.
These barrels of herbicides were transported to Base Gagetown by the U.S. military, and records indicate that they returned to the U.S. with the U.S. military once its testing was completed in 1967. While there is no evidence that Agent Orange barrels were disposed of at Base Gagetown, the standard practice of the time was to dispose of chemical waste, including herbicides, by burying them in barrels. Environmental practices have changed considerably since then, and all of these former disposal sites are being maintained in accordance with federal environmental regulations and guidelines. No barrels of Agent Orange have been found at Base Gagetown to date.
Former disposal sites
There are five former waste disposal sites at Base Gagetown: the Shirley Road main dump, the drum disposal area, the asbestos dump area, the chemical container disposal area, and the ash disposal site. All of these sites were used to dispose of barrels of herbicides, with the exception of the ash disposal site, which was only ever used to dispose of ash from Base Gagetown’s former central heating plant. Following research into the testing and use of herbicides at Base Gagetown, the Tank Firing Point was identified as a potential former barrel disposal site. This area was investigated in 2005, and results of this investigation confirmed that no barrels of herbicides were found at the site.
These sites were all closed by the mid-1990s, and have been capped with fresh soil to form a barrier between the contaminated materials and the surface. Capping ensures that precipitation runs along the surface of the cap into surrounding ditches, reducing the potential for contaminated materials to migrate. These sites are currently undergoing long-term environmental monitoring to ensure that federal environmental standards for soil and surface water or groundwater are being met. The only site that was not capped was the former chemical container disposal area, which was excavated and remediated in 1984. All barrels found at this site were removed at the time, and none of these barrels had markings indicating they contained Agent Orange.
Agent Orange Investigations at Base Gagetown
Since the 1980s, DND has conducted extensive research into the use and testing of herbicides, including Agent Orange, to better understand the circumstances and effects of their use at Base Gagetown.
August 2018 barrel investigation
In June 2018, a retired CAF member identified a new area of interest near the former Shirley Road dump. Following this site visit, an independent third-party expert, MRS Management Ltd., in a joint venture with Gemtec Consulting Engineers and Scientists Ltd., conducted a thorough investigation of this site in August 2018. The area identified was about 223 hectares, or roughly 182 Canadian football fields, including end zones. This investigation began with a detailed aerial survey to scan the ground for magnetic anomalies that could have represented buried barrels. The results of this aerial survey identified several metallic anomalies buried at the site requiring further investigation. The aerial survey was followed by a ground survey, which involved the use of magnetic sensors to identify additional metallic anomalies below ground. 105 anomalies were identified and manually excavated as part of the ground survey. Items found at these target locations included an ammo box, scrap metal, cable, a 10-inch spike, and some wire and steel piping, however, no barrels were found. These results match those from previous investigations, and confirm that this area is not a former barrel disposal site, and that no barrels of Agent Orange have been found at Base Gagetown to date.
The results of the August 2018 investigation match those from previous studies, and confirm that there is no evidence of buried Agent Orange barrels at Base Gagetown. As a result, we have no plans for future activities at this time. The results from this investigation have provided greater certainty about the past use of unregistered herbicides at Base Gagetown, and will be used to inform ongoing environmental monitoring and management activities at former barrel and waste disposal sites.
2005-2007 Herbicide Fact-Finding Investigation
In 2005, DND, along with Veterans Affairs Canada, Health Canada, and various other departments and agencies, began an exhaustive fact-finding investigation to understand the health and environmental risks associated with the past use of registered and unregistered herbicides at Base Gagetown. Research for this investigation was conducted by highly-qualified, non-government experts, and was peer-reviewed by independent specialists in the field. This entire investigation was overseen by Dr. Dennis Furlong, who was named as the Independent Fact-Finding and Outreach Coordinator.
This investigation involved a comprehensive approach in order to understand the past testing and use of herbicides at Base Gagetown, and included several fact-finding tasks, including:
- compiling a list of individuals and military units who were present at Base Gagetown during the testing of herbicides in 1966 and 1967;
- a historical records review of past herbicide use at Base Gagetown between 1952 and 2005, including water and soil sampling;
- consulting with current and former CAF/DND personnel, contractors, local community members, and members of the public about areas to investigate;
- barrel investigations, excavation, and analysis of former disposal sites;
- human health risk assessments, including how individuals may have been exposed to herbicides, and how the herbicides may have migrated through the air and groundwater/surface water at specific sites;
- an epidemiological literature review to understand the relationship between herbicides and human health; and
- testing the tissue of fish and freshwater clams from Base Gagetown for dioxin concentrations.
The results of this investigation concluded that, aside from the two instances of testing in 1966 and 1967, all herbicides used at Base Gagetown were regulated and used in accordance with all federal and provincial regulations and scientific policies at the time. Additionally, while soil testing identified levels of dioxins exceeding Canadian soil guidelines, further testing confirmed that their levels posed no risk to human health. Water sample testing confirmed that surface and groundwater from Base Gagetown never exceeded government water guidelines. Results from testing the tissue of fish and freshwater clams confirmed that dioxin levels were consistent with, or below regulated limits for fish and freshwater clams from other locations.
As part of the barrel investigation and excavation work, 14 sites across Base Gagetown were investigated between 2005 and 2006. This involved geophysically surveying the sites for metallic anomalies that may have represented buried barrels of herbicides. Metallic anomalies were identified at six sites and were excavated. Only scrap metal was found at these sites – no barrels were found.
The results from the human health risk assessments concluded that most people who lived and worked at or near Base Gagetown were not at risk of exposure to herbicides. These results also indicated that only specific populations, including those directly involved with herbicide applications and brush clearings soon after application, were at a greater risk for developing adverse health outcomes. As compensation for the possible exposure to unregistered U.S. herbicides between 1966 and 1967, the Government of Canada provided eligible individuals with a one-time, tax-free ex gratia payment of $20,000.
2006 DND-Wide Herbicide Use Project
In 2006, Public Services and Procurement Canada contracted Golder Associates Ltd. to research, organize, and analyze all available information on the use of herbicides at all DND locations across Canada. The purpose of this investigation was to determine whether Agent Orange and other unregistered U.S. herbicides were tested at other Canadian Armed Forces sites across Canada. The results of this investigation confirmed that, while commercially available herbicides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D were used and stored at CFB Chatham, CFB Gagetown, CFB Borden, and Canadian Forces Station Carp, Agent Orange and other unregistered U.S. herbicides were only used at Base Gagetown. Additional information on herbicide use was collected and reviewed in 2011, and the results matched previous findings from the 2006 investigation.