GAO to probe Agent Orange on Guam

TALK WITH MAYORS: U.S. Navy Capt. Jeffrey Grimes, the chief of staff for Joint Region Marianas, speaks during the 24th General Assembly of the Association of Mariana Islands Mayors, Vice Mayors, and Elected Municipal Council Members Nov. 30 at the Guam Reef Hotel. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Representatives from the Government Accountability Office will be on island next week to talk to stakeholders regarding the reported incidents of Agent Orange exposure on Guam.

U.S. Navy Capt. Jeffrey Grimes, the chief of staff for Joint Region Marianas, confirmed the series of meetings during the 24th General Assembly of the Association of Mariana Islands Mayors, Vice Mayors, and Elected Municipal Council Members yesterday at the Guam Reef Hotel.

During the assembly, Santa Rita Mayor Dale Alvarez asked if the herbicide was ever used on island. Grimes acknowledged that there have been plenty of studies and discussions on the issue.

Grimes said he received a phone call yesterday confirming the GAO team's visit.

"They will be here next week to further look on the discussions that are ongoing from the veterans and other people who have worked at Andersen (Air Force Base)," he said. "They will be interacting with the military. They will be interacting with the people, the government, and the Legislature."

Agent Orange was one of the defoliants – known as "rainbow herbicides" – used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. They were used to destroy bushes, trees and vegetation to deprive insurgents of cover and food crops, as part of a starvation campaign in the early 1950s, according to Post news files.

In January, Florida resident Leroy Foster did an interview with WFLA TV, claiming he had sprayed hundreds of thousands of gallons of Agent Orange while stationed at Andersen. Foster said he was assigned to vegetation control at the base that housed, fueled and armed B-52 bombers for missions over Vietnam in the '60s and '70s.

In an interview with The Guam Daily Post in April, former Guam resident and Air Force veteran Harold Crabtree said his health has rapidly deteriorated after developing a cancer he believes is connected to his years patrolling the base in the mid-1970s.

Veterans stationed on Guam have testified in several forums that they sprayed Agent Orange in military facilities and defense properties on Guam, including tank farms, a cross-island pipeline, pump houses, hydrant pits and filtering systems at Andersen, files state.

Defense authorization bill

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo submitted a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018. The provision requires the GAO to perform an independent review of the federal government's handling of Agent Orange on Guam.

The report will provide a fact-based, independent analysis to determine whether Agent Orange or other dioxin-based herbicides had ever transited through, or been stored or used on Guam. GAO will provide a report after thorough analysis of available documentation, as well as stakeholder engagement.

At the Legislature, Vice Speaker Therese Terlaje introduced Resolution 25-34, to show support for Florida Congressman Dennis Ross' FOSTER Act, which would add Guam to the list of places exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War era.