Hoonah man says Agent Orange buried in Tok

Posted: Monday, July 28, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The former employee of a contractor hired by the Army told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that he helped bury Agent Orange in Tok 30 years ago.

John Erickson said he wondered at the time if he was doing the right thing given the health concerns raised by the use of Agent Orange as a defoliant during the Vietnam War.

But Erickson said the Army command at Fort Greely gave orders to the contractor to dig a big hole and bury the six, 55-gallon barrels.

''At the time I thought 'this is kind of stupid,''' Erickson said by phone from his Hoonah home.

Erickson said he's contacted government officials to tell them what he had done. Those officials have found his story credible and are planning what to do next.

The problem with Agent Orange is that a manufacturing flaw created a deadly byproduct called dioxin. The Veterans Administration believes dioxin to be the source of cancers and Type II diabetes in Vietnam veterans and birth defects in their children.

The Tok site where the barrels might be buried is a former White Alice Communication System site. White Alice was a military communications system developed in the 1950s. There were 49 White Alice sites in Alaska.

Erickson said he and others sprayed Agent Orange on foliage at several White Alice sites along the Alaska Highway.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has sent an environmental specialist to Tok to take water samples from wells.

Officials said the tests show the water is free of the herbicide.

Future action lies with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is seeking to have the Tok property declared a Formerly Used Defense Site.

That designation will give the corps access to money to further evaluate the site for cleanup, said Richard Jackson, a corps project engineer in Anchorage.

''We're moving this pretty quick,'' Jackson said. ''We would likely have to go and determine exactly where it is at, develop a work plan to go in properly and deal with the situation.''

Earlier this summer, the corps announced plans to look for dioxin, Agent Orange's toxic byproduct, in the soils along the route of a 626-mile military petroleum pipeline from Haines to Fairbanks.

Agent Orange was used to clear foliage along the pipeline in the 1960s. Pipeline operations ceased in 1971 and the pipe was partially dismantled.

The corps plans to take 20 soil samples at various locations sometime this fall, Jackson said. If dioxin is found at even 3.9 parts per trillion level comparable to almost four drops within 4 million gallons then more action, including possible cleanup, is required by law. A report on the soil samples will be ready by early 2004, Jackson said.

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