'The Canadians kept spraying': CDC to investigate American veterans’ exposure at Gagetown
by Tory Bonenfant, Managing Editor
Aug 01, 2012 | 2773 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Richard Pelletier Jr.
- SJVT photo / Tory Bonenfant
Richard Pelletier Jr. - SJVT photo / Tory Bonenfant
Aug 1 edition: MADAWASKA - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will conduct an investigation into whether Maine veterans were exposed to toxic chemicals used as defoliants and commercial herbicides while training at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick, between 1956 and 1986.

The commitment came in response to requests by Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep Mike Michaud to look into the matter.

Richard Pelletier Jr., a former Marine and Maine National Guardsman who has been championing the cause to have the possible chemical exposure looked into further than the late 1960s’ Agent Orange exposure already documented, alleges that millions of liters of Agents Orange, Purple, and White were used on the training base for U.S. and Canadian soldiers from the 1950s to 1986.

"We're the only service organization carrying the torch - we're the ones that started it, and we're the ones pushing it," he said in an interview Friday, July 27.

Pelletier, who now lives in Madawaska, said that he is the District 17 Northern Aroostook Service Officer for northern Aroostook County for the American Legion, and that he is a contact for those who may need help to file a claim. Pelletier said he was also one of the Army National Guard trainees to live at CFB Gagetown for two-week trainings in the 1970s. He has been lobbying for years to help obtain compensation for families and widows of personnel who trained there, he said. Thousands of veterans received an ex gratia check for $20,000 in April 2008, a disability benefit from the Canadian government for veterans who participated in Agent Orange spraying while at Gagetown in 1966 or 1967 and who developed a disease linked to that chemical.

He said Friday that he heard three weeks ago from the offices of both Collins and Michaud, and that he was pleased to see progress into further investigations leading into the 1980s.

"We're finally getting stuff done," Pelletier said. "Maine wants to bring up 1966, 1967 - 83 acres - but the Canadians kept spraying," he alleged.

Pelletier said that one of the reasons he is happy the issue is getting attention again is so that veterans or the spouses of deceased veterans will hear of it, and apply for benefits.

"It's important to file now," he said. "What I want is, I want people to come file their claims."

He added that he often sees people who want to know what is going on with investigations into sprayings.

"You're hurting yourself by not filing your claim," he added.

In a letter to Collins dated July 9, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s CDC and administrator for the ATSDR, thanked Collins for looking into Maine veterans “possibly being exposed to Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals while training at CFB Gagetown.” It also noted that the CDC and the ATSDR shared her concerns about the health of military veterans and this situation.

“Dr. Portier has asked his ATSDR scientific staff to investigate the situation at CFB Gagetown and address your concerns,” Frieden wrote in the letter.

As part of the process, he said, the ATSDR staff has contacted the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health to “obtain documents and reports that are essential to a thorough investigation” and that the agency will review the documents and inform Collins of the results.

"I appreciate that the CDC and ATSDR have responded to my request to initiate an investigation into possible exposures to harmful chemicals experienced by soldiers who trained at Gagetown," said Collins in a press release. "Protecting the health of those who were training to protect us is a solemn responsibility from which we must not walk away."

Pelletier said that he is the area contact for those who are searching for help with filing claims, and that he can help veterans set up an appointment.

Pelletier can be reached by email at mrpelletier2010@maine.rr.com.