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Governor Signs Law To Set Up Agent Orange Registry

June 11, 1987

LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ Standing before a monument to Michigan’s war dead, Gov. James Blanchard on Thursday signed into law a testing program that many Vietnam veterans hope will prove their illlnesses were caused by Agent Orange.

The law calls for creation of an Agent Orange Information Center, a 14- member Agent Orange Commission, a birth defects registry for children of Vietnam-era veterans, mortality studies of deceased veterans, and blood and tissue testing of up to 3,500 scientifically selected veterans.

″It may show the first solid study linking dioxin with cancer and other problems,″ said George Claxton, state services director for the Vietnam Veterans of America.

A comprehensive study is possible in part because of advances in the past two years that enable scientists to determine the level of exposure experienced up to 20 years ago.

″We have sensitive equipment now that can test the human body for parts per trillion,″ Claxton said. ″That’s what made the difference″ in getting the law enacted.

″We don’t know what the long-range effects of dioxin are, but for the first time we can find out by taking blood. We couldn’t do that before,″ said Larry Chadzynksi, who heads the state Public Health Department’s center for environmental health sciences.

Though dioxin, an ingredient of Agent Orange, is a suspected carcinogen, past research hasn’t proven the link.

″I’d love to be the first one to either rule it in or rule it out,″ Chadzynski said.

Now that the law’s in place, state officials must find a way to pay for it. The new program’s price tag is estimated at $2.5 million over five years, and the first $500,000 installment has not yet been added to the 1987-88 budget.

After the bill-signing ceremony, Navy veteran Larry Hall squeezed through the crush of cameras to give Blanchard an orange T-shirt decorated with a skeleton-like figure and the phrase, ″Agent Orange: A gift Vietnam veterans would like to give back.″

″I think it’s a little late but anything that we can get, I’ll take,″ he said of the new law.

Army veteran Jerry Veldman watched from the sidelines. He said he hoped the new law encourages veterans to find out whether they’d been exposed to dangerous chemicals.

Veldman, of Holt, said he’s being treated for terminal cancer. ″I know it’s Agent Orange,″ he said.

Michigan’s testing program will focus on exposure to phenoxy herbicides: Agents Orange, Green, Purple, White, Red and Blue. The names indicate the color-coding of the barrels used to transport the chemicals oversees.

About 18 million gallons of the plant-killing mixtures were sprayed to deprive communist troops of the protection of dense jungles and to kill Viet Cong rice fields. Agent Orange accounted for about 12 million of those gallons.

Little was known about dioxin, an ingredient in the defoliants, when President John F. Kennedy approved the spraying.

The national Centers for Disease Control has established one part per billion as the safe exposure limit. The average level of dioxin in Agent Orange was 2,000 times higher, or 2 parts per million.

Illnesses veterans associate with Agent Orange exposure include a variety of cancers, kidney and liver trouble, vision or hearing difficulties, respiratory problems, skin conditions, numbness, fatigue, nervousness, miscarriages and birth defects in their children.

In April, a federal appeals court upheld a complex plan to distribute more than $200 million among 250,000 Vietnam-era veterans and their families who filed claims for Agent Orange-triggered injuries.

But Judge Ralph K. Winter said medical studies ″offer little scientific basis for believing that Agent Orange caused any injury″ and described the settlement, agreed to by seven chemical companies including Midland-based Dow Chemical Co., as ″essentially a payment of nuisance value.″

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