Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Agent Orange Effects in New Jersey

By Lisa Quaglino

The use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War has had lasting effects on both war veterans and the citizens of New Jersey who live near its manufacturing site in Newark. The site has affected the lower end of the Passaic River, turning it into a superfund site.

The manufacturing of Agent Orange left behind dioxin, a harmful chemical that has seeped into the soil and water in the surrounding areas of the Newark plant. If exposed to dioxin, there are dangerous health effects, and it has even been linked to cancer.

The people most affected by exposure to Agent Orange are Vietnam War veterans. The state of New Jersey has sponsored testing of veterans and the US Department of Veterans Affairs provides health care benefits and compensation for those who have Agent Orange associated diseases. As of 2011, the New Jersey Veterans Journal reported the Veterans Affairs agency has linked the toxin with 14 different diseases, including at least four types of cancer, Lymphoma, and Parkinson's Disease.

Issues concerning Agent Orange have resurfaced recently due to Hurricane Sandy, specifically near the lower end of the Passaic River. The river, which flows near the superfund site in Newark, experienced extensive flooding during the storm, seeping into basements and causing damage. The most worrisome aspect of the floods is the fact that sediment in the river is contaminated with dioxin, but the chemical is difficult to recognize.

Dioxin is colorless and has no odor, and whether it appeared in residents’ basements is hard to distinguish, leaving many people very concerned. Not much has been done in order to inform residents if they are at risk or not; in some cases, they were not even warned that the water could be contaminated.

If the contaminated water gets inside of basements and nothing is done, it will eventually become even more harmful than before. The dioxin can also contaminate the air, if material with the chemical in it is burned, and if not taken care of for a long period of time, the exposure can lead to health risks.

If flooding in this area continues, more will need to be done in order to inform and help the affected people. Dangerous health risks will continue to plague the local communities unless a more thorough clean up is demanded. The issue can not be ignored knowing that the area is at risk for flooding, especially during storms like Sandy.

Flooding, however, is not the only way dioxin has made its way into the soil. Some areas in New Jersey received spraying of herbicide chemicals used in Agent Orange, which at the time was meant to control the growth of plants, mostly along power lines and other overgrown areas that needed to be used for other purposes. It is not enough to test only the areas affected by floods, but all of the areas that received exposure to the dangerous chemical.

Once citizens are informed of their risk factor, contaminated areas are tested, and clean up can begin to reverse the damage, New Jersey can hopefully see a drop in numbers of those affected by the use of Agent Orange.

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