Veterans’ Benefits for Agent Orange Exposure

  • A poster from the Department of Veterans Affairs offering help and resources to veterans exposed to Agent Orange. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs)

The US Department of Veterans
Affairs is offering new help to
Vietnam-era vets. The VA says
it can now assist vets who have
ailments related to Agent Orange
exposure. Mark Brush has more:

Transcript

The US Department of Veterans
Affairs is offering new help to
Vietnam-era vets. The VA says
it can now assist vets who have
ailments related to Agent Orange
exposure. Mark Brush has more:

During the Vietnam War, the herbicide known as Agent Orange was sprayed over jungles and forests. It was used to strip the leaves from the trees and expose enemy soldiers.

Some US soldiers who were exposed to the herbicide have long complained about health problems.

Now, the Department of Veterans Affairs says it will help these veterans with disability benefits.

Exposure to Agent Orange has been tied to health problems like parkinson’s disease, cancer, and heart problems.

Allan Oates is with the US Military Veterans with Parkinson’s. He served in Vietnam. And was exposed to Agent Orange. He says his group was thrilled by the VA’s decision.

“It was just an exhilarating feeling to have these people knowing that they were going to get the help that they deserved.”

Oates says many Vietnam era veterans don’t know yet that help is available to them.

The VA estimates that 2.6 million military personnel were potentially exposed to sprayed Agent Orange.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

In Search of Resistant Butternuts

A program is trying to save another
native tree that’s being wiped out by an invasive
fungus. People who like the butternut are hoping
that by planting more seedlings, and tracking
mature trees, they’ll find some are resistant
to a blight that’s killing the butternuts.
Lucy Martin reports:

Transcript

A program is trying to save another
native tree that’s being wiped out by an invasive
fungus. People who like the butternut are hoping
that by planting more seedlings, and tracking
mature trees, they’ll find some are resistant
to a blight that’s killing the butternuts.
Lucy Martin reports:


Butternuts are rich in history. Native Americans used the tree for
medicine and dye. They ate the nuts. During the Civil War, so many
Confederates used the tree’s yellow-brown dye to make home-spun
uniforms that their army picked up the nickname “butternuts.”


Wood ducks, finches and songbirds eat the tree’s spring buds. The fall
nut crop feeds woodpeckers, turkeys, squirrels and other wildlife.
The tree’s hard wood resembles walnut, but with a lighter, golden tone.
That’s why it’s sometimes called “white walnut.”


The trees are seriously threatened by butternut canker, an invasive,
airborne fungus. The blight was first noted in Wisconsin in 1967. In
some states, up to 90% of all butternuts are now affected, but there’s
work underway to try to save the butternut before it’s wiped out.


Tucked in an old orchard, a cold-storage room serves as a distribution
station. Each spring, this is where the Rideau Valley Conservation
Authority gives away seedling trees to the public. Project technician
Rose Fleguel gave me the tour:


“So, I think there’s about 100,000 seedlings here. These are boxed or
bagged so that the trees stay moist and dark. We’ve already spent two
days re-packing into individual landowner tree orders.”


At this time of year, the dormant seedlings just look like twiggy
sticks. Many are still wrapped in brown paper sacks. Conservation
agencies plant all kinds of trees. But sometimes they target very
specific problems, like butternut canker.


“My thing is the Butternut Recovery Project, whatever amount of land
can sustain 10 seedlings, then you’re free to take the seedlings and
plant them out. ‘Cause what we’d like to do is get the seedlings out on
the landscape, get them growing. Replace the ones that have been killed
by this disease, already, and that continue to be killed, and hope for,
I mean, it’s going to be, it’s going to be a shot in the dark, but hope
that maybe some of these seedlings might be resistant.”


“Hope” is the key word. It’s not clear whether any butternuts are
resistant to the canker blight. The seedlings being handed out are
from trees that are still healthy. This recovery program also maps
mature trees and keeps track of the ones that still seem to be canker-
free. It’s a long shot, called “find the resistance.”


Rudy Dyck is the Director of the local Watershed Stewardship Services.
He says you can usually see if a butternut has been attacked by the
disease:


“Look for black patches, black streaks, black sooty areas on
the main stem, at the root collar, and always look on the underside of
the large branches, because that seems to be where the canker first
infects.”


“And if you notice that, is there anything to be done?”


“No, there’s nothing you can do. We’re asking people to keep them, as
long as they can. But one of the reasons that butternut is in such
extreme danger of extinction is that it just does not regenerate very
well.”


Dyck says that’s why it’s important to conserve existing trees.
Butternuts don’t bear seed each and every year. And when they do, the
nuts tend to get gobbled up. Growing new butternuts takes a few tricks:


“You have to stratify them, or prepare them for growing, the next
spring. So they have to spend a few months in kind of freezing
temperatures, an un-insulated garage in a pot of peat moss, or
something. Another strategy some people do, is they bury the nuts in
the fall, and they cover them with chicken wire, and then that protects
them from squirrels during that fall period and, as they start to grow
next spring, you can transplant them.”


Dyck says US and Canadian agencies are sharing ideas and results
because diseases don’t stop at borders:


“There’s literally thousands and thousands of heavily cankered, dying
butternuts out there, and we really want to focus on looking at
healthy, canker-free trees. Because those are the trees we want to get
into our geo-data base, for future seed collection, those are the trees
that may hold some resistance and those are the trees we want to
track.”


Butternut canker isn’t a well-known problem. The beautiful trees are
too big for most yards. They’re usually sparsely scattered in forests,
or old farmsteads. But Dyck says the butternut has an important place
in nature.


“There’s no question, bio-diversity and having many, many types of
ecosystems, habitats, species. They all interact, they all count on
each other, and it all makes for a healthier environment and place for
us all to live.”


Many native trees such as the chestnut, elm, and now the ash, are under
attack from invasive diseases or pests. The butternut is yet another
tree biologists want to save for future generations.


For the Environment Report, I’m Lucy Martin.

Related Links

Vx Nerve Gas Destruction

The Army is beginning the final phase to destroy a deadly chemical
weapon that’s been stored in Newport, Indiana since the 1960s. The
Army says the chemical weapon “VX” has been neutralized. Now the army
is shipping wastewater from the neutralization process to an
incinerator in Texas. Jim Meadows reports that some critics say the
wastewater is not safe for transport:

Transcript

The Army is beginning the final phase to destroy a deadly chemical
weapon that’s been stored in Newport, Indiana since the 1960s. The
Army says the chemical weapon “VX” has been neutralized. Now the army
is shipping wastewater from the neutralization process to an
incinerator in Texas. Jim Meadows reports that some critics say the
wastewater is not safe for transport:


Mitch Williams is with the Chemical Weapons Working Group. He says
civilian workers at the Newport, Indiana facility say VX and a by-
product, Experimental Agent 2192, have been re-forming in the
wastewater.


Williams says an accident during transport or incineration could poison
people. Army Colonel Jesse Barber oversees the VX destruction
process. He says the wastewater is free of VX and its by-products:


“I know number one, we don’t have detectable agent and number two, we don’t have
detectable EA 2192. Before I take it out of the reactor, I ensure we make our clearance criteria.”


The Army plans to have all the VX destroyed by next year. The Chemical
Weapons Working Group is going to court to try to stop the process.


For the Environment Report, I’m Jim Meadows.

Related Links

Study Questions Nerve Gas Waste Dump in River

Plans to dump a chemical weapon by-product into a river have been put on hold. Brad Linder reports a group of lawmakers is calling for further study of those plans:

Transcript

Plans to dump a chemical weapon byproduct into a river have been put on hold. Brad Linder reports a group of lawmakers is calling for further study of those plans:


Under international law, the United States is obligated to neutralize its stockpile of VX Nerve agent. The Army has been destroying VX at a plant in Indiana. Then the plan was to ship the remains of the material to a facility in New Jersey for further treatment before dumping the waste into the Delaware River.


But New Jersey’s congressional delegation pushed for a complete study of the project. Representative Rob Andrews says the region relies on the Delaware River for commerce and drinking water.


“A quantity of VX that could fit on the head of a pin would kill you if it touched your skin. Any possibility that any residue of that VX would be put into the river is unacceptable, because the health consequences would be catastrophic.”


The Army says the VX would be completely neutralized before being dumped in the river, but Andrews isn’t convinced.


A government study should be complete early next year.


For the Environment Report, I’m Brad Linder.

Related Links

Turning Nuke Waste Sites Into Playgrounds

  • Grassland prairie flowers from Weldon Spring, part of the Department of Energy's restoration effort to control erosion and add aesthetic beauty to the area. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy)

Across the U.S., there are more than 100 sites contaminated by radioactive waste from the nation’s nuclear weapons programs.
The government is trying to return these Cold War relics to safe and useful purposes. Some of these once toxic zones are being treated much like public parks. The GLRC’s Kevin Lavery visited one that was recently opened to the public:

Transcript

Across the US, there are more than 100 sites contaminated by radioactive waste from the
nation’s nuclear weapons programs. The government is trying to return these Cold War
relics to safe and useful purposes. Some of these once toxic zones are being treated much
like public parks. The GLRC’s Kevin Lavery recently visited one that was recently
opened to the public…


A thick grove of trees opens up to a clearing that reveals a white mound of limestone
rock. It rises like a tomb from some long-forgotten civilization, were it not for the water
towers and golf courses on the horizon.


Mike Leahy and his 9-year-old son Cameron came to this rock dome to catch the view
atop its 75 foot summit. But the real attraction was what they did not see:


“We read the sign and saw what was buried and how they did it, and – it’s kind of
disturbing, what’s in there.”


Beneath their feet lay more than a million cubic yards of spent uranium, asbestos and
PCB’s. The 45 acre mound is a disposal cell, where the government buried thousands of
barrels and tons of debris. That history didn’t bother young Cameron:


“It’s really cool. They keep all that nuclear waste under all that and it can’t harm
anybody.”


The Weldon Spring site, 30 miles west of St. Louis, Missouri began during World War
Two as an Army TNT factory. In the 1950’s, the plant refined yellow cake uranium for
later use in nuclear weapons. All that stopped in 1966 and all the radioactive waste just
sat there. Weldon Spring became an EPA Superfund site in 1987. After a 900 million
dollar cleanup, the site was opened to tourists in 2002.


(Sound of frogs)


Today, frogs sing in a native prairie at the foot of the cell. In April, officials opened a
hiking trail adjacent to a once-radioactive landfill. The route connects to a state park.


Weldon Spring is not a park per se, but project manager Yvonne Deyo says urban sprawl
prompted them to think like one:


“There’s subdivisions and lots of infrastructure going in…and that just kind of hits home
how important green space is, and that’s kind of what we’re trying to do a little bit of
here at the site.”


Weldon Spring is one of about 100 such sites the Department of Energy is converting to
what it calls “beneficial re-use.” Many are becoming recreational venues. Another
closed uranium plant near Cincinnati is adding horseback riding trails. In Wayne, New
Jersey, a former thorium processing facility is becoming a baseball field. And a national
wildlife preserve is in the works at Rocky Flats, the site outside Denver that made the
plutonium cores of nuclear warheads.


The Department of Energy says Weldon Spring is safe for visitors – though some residual
contamination remains.


(Sound of Burgermeister Spring)


Burgermeister Spring runs through a 7-thousand acre state reserve adjacent to the site.
This is where uranium-laced groundwater from Weldon Spring rises to the surface.
Though the spring exceeds the EPA’s drinking water quality standard, there’s no warning
sign here. Officials say the contamination is so low that it poses no immediate public
hazard. The spring feeds into one of the most popular fishing lakes on the property.
Most visitors are surprised to hear that:


“Huh.”


Jeff Boeving fishes for bass four or five times a month:


“(Does that concern you to hear that?) Yeah – absolutely…I mean, they’ve got a great
area out here and they’re kind of messing it up if they’re going to have contaminants, you know, going into it.”


The government’s vision of post-nuclear playgrounds is not without its critics. Arjun
Makhijani heads the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma Park,
Maryland. He says recreational sites near urban development zones risk losing their
original purpose:


“Institutional memory tends to be very short; after 30, 40, 50 years people forget, they
begin to develop the land, and pretty soon you could have houses, farms and schools in
the area. So it’s not necessary that it will stay recreational forever.”


Recreation is only one option the Department of Energy is considering for all of its sites.
In the last two years, the agency’s budget has doubled with the addition of nearly a dozen
radioactive properties. Officials say Congress has so far supported its fiscal requests.
And with the future of a proposed permanent nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain still
in doubt, even more tax dollars will likely be spent converting the nuclear dumps in
America’s backyards to a place where families play.


For the GLRC, I’m Kevin Lavery.

Related Links

Ten Threats: Coastal Development Pressures

  • Construction along the shorelines can put a strain on natural systems. (Photo by Carole Swinehart/Michigan Sea Grant Extension)

One of the more subtle but relentless threats to the Great Lakes is
coastal development. Condos, ever larger and nicer beach homes
and buildings and parking lots in the watershed all have an
impact on the Lakes. As the population grows and the suburban
lifestyle keeps spreading, the health of the lakes is compromised
in countless tiny ways. Reporter Peter Payette finds those tiny
ways all add up:

Transcript

We’re continuing our look at ‘Ten Threats to the Great Lakes.’
Lester Graham is our guide through the series. He says the
experts who were surveyed to determine the threats say rapid
development is among the problems affecting the lakes:


One of the more subtle but relentless threats to the Great Lakes is
coastal development. Condos, ever larger and nicer beach homes
and buildings and parking lots in the watershed all have an
impact on the Lakes. As the population grows and the suburban
lifestyle keeps spreading, the health of the lakes is compromised
in countless tiny ways. Reporter Peter Payette finds those tiny
ways all add up:


Greg Reisig is standing at the edge of a 20-acre construction site
just down the street from the shore Lake Michigan.


Below him is a man-made pond a few hundred feet long. It was a
dry summer around here, but the pond is full.


In fact, Reisig says the water level is always the same.


“And that indicates there’s a lot of ground water flowing
here…there’s a lot of water in this pond and you can see what
was a whole big wetland complex…there’s a lot of cedar and red
osier dogwood…all the wetland plants.”


There are no wetlands here now.


The site in northern Michigan was excavated for homes a few
years ago.


But now the Army Corps of Engineers says the wetlands that
were here need to be restored. A few acres likely will be
restored. But Reisig says almost the whole site was wetlands
once. He expects it will soon be a subdivision with not much
more than a drainage ditch connecting it to Lake Michigan.


“What will that do to the amount of flow of water going into the
bay? Because of hard road surfaces, hard driveways, roofs,
buildings and supposedly fertilized lawns. What will happen to
the water and how will that increase the flow to the bay?”


The developer’s attorney says this is nonsense. Matt Vermetten
says this land was heavily farmed and mined for clay.


“There are pockets of quote unquote wetland and those are there
because of excavation for clay. So is this a wetland complex of
the nature we speak of when we typically speak of such a thing? I
think not.”


Disputes like this are becoming more common around the Great
Lakes. John Nelson is the baykeeper with the Grand Traverse
Bay Watershed Center. The bay off Lake Michigan and attracts a
lot of people. But Nelson says development doesn’t have to be a
problem.


He says the problem is people don’t think about the ecology of
the lakes. For example, east of Traverse City, Michigan, resorts
dominate the coastline. Along the beach, thick stands of sedges
and rushes extend out a few hundred feet. But the sections of
dark green marsh alternate with stretches of clean sand and white
lawn chairs.


(birds calling on beach)


Nelson grew up here and says this part of the lake was never a
sugar sand beach.


“They’ve located in a coastal marsh. Instead of celebrating and
dealing with that they’ve chosen to see it as they would like to
have it and then change it.”


The impacts of the changes are cumulative. Fish and wildlife
habitat is fragmented. The natural filtering properties of the
wetlands are gone.


So every time the city gets a rain shower all the dust and grime
and pollution are washed right into the lake.


Census data show people are leaving many of the Great Lakes
coastal cities and spreading out along the coastline. But it’s not
clear how local governments should plan for the growth.


Mike Klepinger studies land use planning for the Michigan Sea
Grant program. He says it’s hard to make direct connections
between a healthy lake and particular land uses.


“We are getting more planning along the shoreline than we had
thirty years ago in the state. The number of counties and number
of townships that have a plan has gone up, for example. But we
don’t know whether those plans are really doing any good.”


And it’s hard to implement good planning on a broad basis. In
any area, dozens of different local governments might have
independent control over development.


Multiply that by the number cities, townships and counties along
the coasts of the Great Lakes… and it’s hard to see how it all can
be managed so that enough coastline habitat is preserved.


For the GLRC, I’m Peter Payette.

Related Links

Region Deals With Deadly Nerve Agent

The Army wants to get rid of its stockpiles of chemical weapons because they fear terrorists might get to them. There are eight Army sites across the U.S. that store those kinds of chemicals. At one site in the Midwest, the military is planning to dispose of Nerve Agent VX. To destroy the stockpiles, the Army must first “water-down” the nerve agent. Then it has to be shipped to a company that disposes of industrial wastes. But while the Army says it’s making neighborhoods safer near where the chemical weapons are stored … some people fear having the watered-down nerve agent trucked into their neighborhoods. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:

Transcript

The Army wants to get rid of its stockpiles of chemical weapons because they fear terrorists might get to them. There are eight Army sites across the U.S. that store those kinds of chemicals. At one site in the Midwest, the military is planning to dispose of Nerve Agent VX. To destroy the stockpiles, the Army must first “water-down” the nerve agent. Then it has to be shipped to a company that disposes of industrial wastes. But while the Army says it’s making neighborhoods safer near where the chemical weapons are stored, some people fear having the watered-down nerve agent trucked into their neighborhoods. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:


Nerve Agent VX is a clear, odorless liquid with the consistency of motor oil. It was
accidentally created during the Korean War, when British chemists were experimenting
with various concoctions meant to kill lice on North Korean POW’s and refugees. Nerve
Agent VX kills within minutes after contact with the skin. It has never been used in
combat by the United States. Instead, most of the country’s supply sits in a highly-
guarded tank at the Newport Chemical Depot in west-central Indiana. In 1985, Congress
ordered the chemical weapons destroyed because many seemed obsolete. In 1997, the
United States joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits countries from
developing, producing, stockpiling or using chemical weapons.


Then, as U.S. Army spokesperson Terry Arthur explains, terrorists slammed planes into
the World Trade Center towers:


“After September 11th, 2001, because the public suddenly became aware of the possibility
for terrorism here in the United States, folks living near the stockpiles became acutely
aware of that. And the army began to look at ways to accelerate destruction of the
stockpiles.”


The Army is planning to burn some of its chemical weapons in incinerators. The Nerve
Agent VX that’s stored in Newport, Indiana will be destroyed through a neutralization
process. That’s a process that makes the nerve agent no more harmful than a household
drain cleaner.


(Ambient sound fade up)


The watered-down version of the nerve agent is called hydrolysate. It will be shipped by
tanker truck to Perma-Fix Environmental Services, a company in Dayton, Ohio. It’s a
company that usually handles industrial wastes and used oils.


“If you get your oil changed anywhere at a service station near the Dayton, Ohio area,
chances are, the used oil from your vehicle ends up here.”


That’s company Vice President Tom Trebonik. He says the hydrolysate will, simply put,
be broken down by a natural process. It will be eaten by microscopic bugs. And then it
breaks down even more into a form that will be pumped into the sewer system.


But, once word of a “nerve agent” coming to town spread around the small, poor
neighborhood near the plant, environmentalists began working with residents to voice
opposition to its disposal. They tacked up signs in the local supermarket and carry-out
that read “Deadly VX Nerve Agent” is coming to the neighborhood.


(Nat sound)


Martha Chatterton is a young mother of one with another child on the way. She lives in a
small house in a decaying area. Her husband fixes cars in the garage out back. They’re
glued to the news on CNN about heightened terror alerts. They know terrorist attacks are
a possibility. But they don’t want a problem from Indiana shipped to their backyard.


Chatterton is worried about the health effects of living near a plant that deals with such
industrial wastes. She says some days the air is orange and smells of a chemical stew.


“Well, last year we did the whole yard with roses and different flowers, and about a week
after we planted them, all of them died. So there’s got… there’s something wrong with
the ground here, because when I dug the hole for the rose tree, it smelled like gas fumes.”


Chatterton fears Perma-Fix won’t be able to properly handle the hydrolysate. The
company was cited in 2001 for odor violation but has since installed equipment to solve
the problem. Beyond that, the U.S. EPA and the Army see no reason why the treated
nerve agent can’t be trucked into town. Again, Army spokesperson Terry Arthur:


“We understand the concern of the public because it’s derived from a chemical agent.
What we want them to understand is that we have truckers who will be dedicated and
trained specifically for hauling this product and getting it across the state line to the Ohio
facility, where experts have been working with this kind of material for years.”


With the threat of terrorism, there’s little that’s likely to slow the pace of the destruction
of the nerve agent. The risks of leaving it intact seem greater than the risks associated
with destroying it.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.

Conjecture Continues on Water Levels

Whether Great Lakes water levels are expected to improve this summer depends on who you ask. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Whether Great Lakes water levels are expected to improve this summer depends on who you ask. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

The average water levels of the Great Lakes have dropped about four feet in the last four years. The Army Corps of Engineers says with heavy snowfall in March and heavy rains in recent weeks in some parts of the basin, the Corps is expecting some improvement in those levels. But a meteorologist concedes that the Corps predictions disagree with those of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Cynthia Sellinger is a hydrologist with NOAA. She says because of warmer than normal weather, much of the precipitation evaporated instead of running off into the lakes.

“Without a good spring run-off which gives us our seasonal rise, the lakes will be either at last year’s level or slightly lower.”

And NOAA says for the next three months the Great Lakes basin can expect average precipitation and that won’t help the lakes replenish themselves.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

New Vaccine for West Nile Virus?

Researchers might soon have a vaccine to protect birds from the West Nile virus. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Researchers might soon have a vaccine to protect birds from the West Nile virus. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.


The centers for disease control and the U.S. Army are getting help to develop a vaccine for prevention of the mosquito borne West Nile virus. Here in the U.S. in the past couple of years, the virus has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of birds from more than seventy species. Michael Hutchins is with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. He says research into a vaccine ahs been driven by the need to protect birds in zoos.


“The current studies are to develop an injectable vaccine, but the intention is to try to take that and develop an ingestible variety that could be spread on bird feed and would therefore have a hopefully-big impact on wild birds as well.”


Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo, the Walt Disney Foundation, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the American Bird Conservancy have all contributed to the project. Hutchins says a vaccine could be developed as soon as the next month or so. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.