The Ontario government has released a report concluding that some pesticide applicators in Ontario were exposed to dangerous levels of Agent Orange between 1948 and 1979 — the same chemical used to defoliate the jungle during the Vietnam War. Although most Agent Orange was used by municipalities, the study was a provincial one and limited to provincial employees. Of these, some Hydro, road and forestry workers may have been exposed to up to 700 times the current safe level of herbicides. Long term municipal and private pesticide applicators may have had similar exposures. Such exposure can increase the risk of a number of serious diseases. Those affected are now invited to apply for Worker Safety Insurance Board compensation.
In essence, the report confirms that some Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Transportation and Ontario Hydro employees, who were involved in mixing, loading, and applying herbicides, were likely exposed regularly to TCDD-contaminated 2,4,5-T for long periods, far above recommended safe thresholds of exposure. This exposure may or may not have resulted in serious adverse health effects, although certain cancers are known to be associated with exposure to these pesticides.
The report was commissioned after articles in the Toronto Star in 2011. My father complained about the same health risks to the government forty years ago, but was ignored. The conventional wisdom then was that herbicides were inherently safe for people and animals, despite what had happened in Vietnam.
Unlike the massive health impacts in Vietnam, the report concluded that few Ontario bystanders are likely to have received toxic levels of the herbicide from provincial government spraying. No one has assessed the likely impact of municipal and private spraying in Ontario, but no Canadian uses of Agent Orange were comparable to the massive, sustained attacks on forests and food crops in Vietnam. On the other hand, the report again demonstrates the folly of relying blindly on the pesticide regulatory system to prevent all adverse effects to people and the environment.