Look be­yond Agent Or­ange

Townsville Bulletin - - LIFESTYLE -

with Ross East­gate is a mil­i­tary his­to­rian, writer and jour­nal­ist spe­cial­is­ing in de­fence. A grad­u­ate of Dun­troon and the Army Com­mand and Staff Col­lege, he has served in the

Mid­dle East, PNG and East Ti­mor. Con­fronta­tion, has dom­i­nated vet­er­ans’ is­sues longer than any other group.

Af­ter World War II Aus­tralia main­tained for the first time a reg­u­lar, stand­ing army.

With the ex­cep­tion of the pe­riod 1965- 72 when con­scrip­tion by bal­lot was in­tro­duced, those who served have been vol­un­teers.

More than a few Viet­nam vet­er­ans served mul­ti­ple tours there in vary­ing en­vi­ron­ments, while many reg­u­lar ser­vice­men and women served in other con­flicts as well as stan­dard non- op­er­a­tional post­ings.

The ADF of that pe­riod was one where ex­po­sure to harm­ful sub­stances was not given the close scru­tiny nor pro­tec­tion it is to­day.

A clas­sic case was the RAAF F- 111 de­seal/ re­seal pro­gram where un­pro­tected main­te­nance per­son­nel were ex­posed to a range of harm­ful chem­i­cals in­clud­ing fu­els, with alarm­ing health con­se­quences.

In­deed avi­a­tion grade kerosene ( AV­TUR), par­tic­u­larly if it had been con­demned for use in air­craft regularly found its way around the ADF as a clean­ing sol­vent.

Weapon and ve­hi­cle parts and equip­ment such as teleprint­ers were rou­tinely bathed in AV­TUR as a de­greas­ing and clean­ing sol- vent, of­ten han­dled by per­son­nel with­out pro­tec­tive equip­ment and who would rou­tinely re­move ser­vice­able uni­forms to pre­vent them from be­ing con­tam­i­nated by ei­ther AV­TUR or the sub­stances it was in­tended to re­move.

In malar­ial ar­eas in­sec­ti­cides were regularly dis­pensed by fog­ging ma­chines, where the in­sec­ti­cide was mixed with fuel in twostroke en­gines and ef­fec­tively dis­pensed as the ex­haust fumes of those en­gines.

These ma­chines emit­ting clouds of en­velop­ing white smoke were regularly driven at dawn and dusk through work and ac­com­mo­da­tion ar­eas alike.

The de­ci­sion to re­visit the ef­fects of Agent Or­ange in Viet­nam is both timely and welcome and hope­fully the his­tor­i­cal record will be cor­rected.

It is, how­ever, dan­ger­ous if not foolish to ig­nore the com­bined if not ac­cu­mu­la­tive ef­fects of a range of chem­i­cal agents to which ADF per­son­nel were rou­tinely ex­posed for which there may be other ad­verse health out­comes.

Viet­nam vet­er­ans de­serve due recog­ni­tion but so do thou­sands of other vet­er­ans whose health may have also been dam­aged by sim­i­lar ex­po­sure.

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