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Agent Orange was tested at Fort Ritchie Army base

February 20, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

CASCADE — Agent Orange was among the herbicides studied at the former Fort Ritchie Army base in 1963, according to U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs documents found online.

The owner of the former Army base property in northeast Washington County, Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT), found out last week that “testing and the use of tactical defoliants/herbicides” were conducted at Fort Ritchie and issued a news release Friday noting that the trust now expects further delays in litigation relating to a 2005 lawsuit.

That lawsuit resulted in a federal judge ordering a halt to further redevelopment at the former Army base in November 2009.

Agent Orange is a blend of herbicides the U.S. military sprayed in Vietnam to eliminate foliage that provided cover to its enemy during the Vietnam War, according to a Veterans Affairs website.

William Hofmann, senior property and environmental services manager for COPT, referred questions on Sunday to COPT’s general counsel, COPT Senior Vice President Karen Singer.

Reached at home Sunday, Singer said she had no information other than what was in the news release.

“This all came as a surprise to everybody,” said Dori Nipps, executive director of PenMar Development Corp. “We knew nothing about that testing and so it is what it is. We’ll just have to see how it all comes out.”

PenMar is a state agency that monitors redevelopment of the property, including ensuring guidelines are followed in the historic district of the property.

Questions that arise include when was the testing done, how much was done, how it was applied and where it was applied, Nipps said.

“I think the Army is also trying to figure that out,” Nipps said.

“COPT is working with the Army and PenMar to determine the precise locations and extent of the testing conducted within Fort Ritchie and does not have any further details at this time,” states COPT’s news release at its website, www.copt.com.

COPT owns the 591-acre property on which an Army base was closed in 1998.
Operating on the property are a community center and a restaurant, Nipps said.

Development of the property was stalled due to a court-ordered environmental review stemming from a 2005 lawsuit filed by area property owners Jim Lemon and Robin Biser.

The Army was accepting public comment last September on a draft Record of Environmental Consideration that argued no additional environmental review of the redevelopment project was needed.

Agent Orange testing

The Army disclosed two reports to COPT last week that were related to the testing of herbicides at various military installations, including Fort Ritchie, according to the COPT release.

“COPT was not made aware of the 2006 report, the 1956 report or the prior use of tactical defoliants/herbicides at Fort Ritchie until this week,” the release states.

On Feb. 15, COPT received a study published by the Department of Defense in December 2006, regarding the testing and use of tactical defoliants/herbicides at various military installations in the United States, including Fort Ritchie, the news release states.

Nipps said that report was shared with PenMar’s board members last week.

The other report COPT received, on Feb. 17, was titled “Defoliation Investigations During 1954 and 1955,” according to the news release. The report was published in 1956 by the Chemical Corps Research & Development Command Biological Warfare Laboratories.

Both reports can be found online through the Defense Technical Information Center at www.dtic.mil/dtic.

The 2006 report is the result of a 2006 request by the VA to the Department of Defense to provide a list of places and dates, outside of Vietnam, where the department used herbicide agents, including Agent Orange, or where defense department personnel were likely exposed to such agents, according to the report. The VA asked for the list to evaluate the merits of veterans’ disability claims.

Veterans might be eligible for disability compensation and health-care benefits for diseases the VA has recognized as being associated with exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides, according to the VA’s website at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/diseases.asp. Those diseases include certain cancers, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, AL amyloidosis, and acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy, according to the agency.

On a Web page, www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/outside_vietnam_usa.asp, last updated Aug. 23, 2010, the VA lists herbicides that were tested or stored in the United States, including at Fort Ritchie.

In 1963, “various studies were done to explore the effectiveness of different herbicides. They were all field trials. These studies were done by personnel from the U.S. Army Biological Laboratories,” states one entry. It lists the agents as “Tordon, 2,4-D, Orange, diquat, endothal and combinations of each with Tordon.”

Another entry in the list at the VA website states that “in 1956 and 1957, defoliation and desiccation were carried out at Fort Detrick and Fort Ritchie, Maryland, by the Chemical Corps and Biological Warfare Research. These were bench tests.” It listed the agents as “various, 577 compounds.”

Field testing herbicides

Reports from 1956 and 2006 describe tests done at Fort Ritchie.

The 2006 report is titled “The History of the U.S. Department of Defense Programs for the Testing, Evaluation and Storage of Tactical Herbicides” and was submitted by consultant Alvin L. Young, a defense subcontractor.

That report lists Fort Ritchie as a test site twice, in the 1950s and the 1960s.

In 1963, “Herbicide Orange” and other herbicides, as well as combinations of them, were sprayed on 108 trees, the report states. Testing was done at Fort Ritchie and Fort Meade, where the property was large enough to spray trees or small plots in areas that were isolated and restricted from the public, the report states.

A reference to field trials in 1964 does not specify whether those trials were done at Fort Ritchie and/or Fort Meade.

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