Fort Ritchie neighbors in the dark about Agent Orange testing

February 21, 2011|By DAN DEARTH |
  • Fort Ritchie, pictured Monday, was the site of Agent Orange testing in the 1960s.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

CASCADE — Some of the residents who lived near Fort Ritchie when Agent Orange was tested there in the 1960s said Monday they want the government to inform them of potential health risks.

Gary Harbaugh, 75, said he has lived in his Wastler Avenue home near the former U.S. Army post since 1955.

“I just don’t know to what extent the testing was done,” Harbaugh said. “It does concern me. I want to know what effects it has. Are there any dangers?”

The U.S. military sprayed Agent Orange during the Vietnam War to destroy foliage that the enemy used as cover. In 1963, Agent Orange and other herbicides were sprayed on trees in isolated areas at Fort Ritchie to test their effectiveness.

Like many others, Harbaugh and his wife, Peggy, 74, said they didn’t know the government had tested Agent Orange at Fort Ritchie until Monday morning, when they read about it in the newspaper.

“If it went into the ground, it could go anywhere,” Peggy Harbaugh said. “I want to know more.”

Robert E. Miller, 81, has lived his entire life in the Cascade area and worked at the base’s motor pool from 1953 to 1984. He lives across the Street from Fort Ritchie on McAfee Hill Road.

“I’ve never heard anything about Agent Orange” being tested at the base, he said.

Miller and his wife, Aneeda, 76, said they aren’t worried about possible effects of the agent.

“If it didn’t get us before, it’s not going to get us now,” Aneeda Miller said. “It doesn’t concern me. It doesn’t scare me one bit.”

Arben Harbaugh, 82, said he worked on a garbage truck at Fort Ritchie when he was a teenager during World War II. In 1955, he moved into his current home on Cascade Road.

He said he didn’t know about the use of herbicides on the base until he read the newspaper Monday.

“I was kind of surprised in a way,” Harbaugh said. “If they used this stuff, they must have ... done it in an isolated area.”

Harbaugh said he probably would have gotten sick by now if the use of herbicides posed a threat.

“What’s done is done,” he said.

Paul Mummert, 77, who worked as an entomologist at the Army base from 1968 to 1994, said he sprayed chemicals to eradicate weeds and bushes as a routine part of his job, and not as part of a test.

Mummert said he never heard anything about the government spraying Agent Orange on trees at Fort Ritchie for testing purposes.

He said the chemical used for routine weed and bush control was 245-T, an herbicide similar to Agent Orange that contained an ingredient to make it safe for humans, Mummert said.

“There shouldn’t be any of it at Fort Ritchie right now,” he said. “It should have dissipated long ago.”

Mummert said 245-T was used commonly at military installations across the country.

“It was sprayed basically anywhere they wanted something killed,” he said. “We used it all over the place. This is what they told us to use.”

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