Veteran demands action on Agent Orange
A United States veteran called for more testing to determine if toxic chemical Agent Orange was burnt at the Kindley Field Air Force Base.
Ronald Slater, from Washington, said outcry in the United States about the use of “burn pits” has given him hope that his claims will be investigated further.
Mr Slater, 75, said: “I’m asking for the sake of the people of Bermuda, particularly the people in St David’s who were exposed to and braved that smoke.
“The smoke was so black and thick I could barely find my way from the truck to the machinery. We are not talking about burning trees and landscaping debris.
“Someone needs to take the initiative and take a drill sample at least 20 feet, and they need to know where the pits actually were. I would be happy to put together a map.”
Mr Slater, a former US Air Force serviceman, first went public with his claims in 2007 that about 200 barrels of waste — including dangerous defoliant Agent Orange — were burnt on the Kindley Field Air Force Base and bulldozed into the sea between 1965 and 1967.
He has said the chemicals, together with the toxic smoke caused by the fires, caused him and fellow veterans serious medical problems.
Agent Orange was widely used during the Vietnam War to clear jungles, but has since been linked to a number of health problems including leukaemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and various kinds of cancer.
However, Mr Slater’s attempts to gain compensation have been unsuccessful because the US has not recognised that Agent Orange was used anywhere other than Vietnam.
Toxicology tests conducted in the mid-1990s found no evidence of Agent Orange, and nor did later soil tests by Bermuda Water Consultants.
The BWC report stated that they tested 15 sites around the baselands, collecting samples from the top ten centimetres of soil to be analysed.
Mr Slater said that while his past lawsuits had been dismissed by the courts, recent comments by General David Petraeus had given him hope his case would be given another look.
General Petraeus, who was a commander during the Gulf War, spoke out about the use of “burn pits” to get rid of trash, chemicals and medical waste during that conflict.
He told Fox News: “Over time, in that tour in particular, you start noticing other issues.
“So, yes, there is serious combat going on. But you’re noticing that there’s this massive burn pit that is upwind of us.
“So it blows over this huge base, Camp Victory, where we had 25,000 or more soldiers based and stationed.”
General Patraeus added: “We had a number of other locations, again, where we had these burn pits. And you start to notice it more and more.
“And I got more and more concerned during that time — I mean, it’d been something I’d noticed previously, but now I realise that we’ve got all these soldiers who are, on really bad days, inhaling whatever it is that’s being burnt in these pits.”
Dozens of burn pits were used during the Gulf War and more than 140,000 active service members and retirees have put their names on a Burn Pit Registry to say they were affected.
Mr Slater said the comments by General Patraeus — combined with the growing number of veterans suffering from health issues linked to burn pits — had given him hope that the issue would be properly addressed.
He said the testing conducted by Bermuda Water Consultants was inadequate because it might not have tested the correct areas and did not dig deep enough.
Mr Slater said: “They got a shovel full of soil, took it to the lab and tested it.
“All of these pits were 20 feet deep. When someone is doing proper testing, they drill down and get samples from 15, 20 feet deep.
“I have no doubt that these pits were filled in with coral sand.”
Mr Slater has also renewed claims to the US Veteran’s Association as a result of the warnings about burn pits.
He said: “The US Navy and Air Force refused to protect me and my fellow veterans and we paid a very high price.”
Mr Slater added that he was not the only one who had described the burn pits in Bermuda.
Sergeant James Kustush wrote in a sworn statement that he was assigned to Kindley Field in 1965 and was Mr Slater’s neighbour.
He said: “Trash, garbage, building materials, steel barrels, wood, metal roofing, siding from old barracks, insulation from hangers and asbestos covering from pipes. All of this was dumped in that one ravine, and all was set on fire. Ron would run a bulldozer or tractor over all this rubbish and push it into the ocean.”
Sergeant Kustush recalled that he saw Mr Slater crushing barrels at the landfill with a bulldozer.
He added: “The tracks on the bulldozer had some sort of liquid all over them.
“I asked Ron what the liquid was and he said it was Agent Orange. Ron told me he worked around Agent Orange when he was on active duty with the Navy in Puerto Rico.”
Air Force veteran Andrew Moore claimed his cancer was brought on from his job dumping tons of human waste in a deep pit at the baselands in 1963-64, while other veterans have claimed substances such as mercury and hydrochloric acid were disposed of in the same manner.
The Ministry of Public Works was contacted about this story, but had not commented as of press time last night.
Health impact claims
Ronald Slater said he was being treated for a range of conditions be believed were caused by exposure to burn pits in Bermuda.
Among those conditions are:
• High blood pressure
• Benign hypertension
• Diabetes mellitus type two
• Large kidney cyst
• Polymyalgia rheumatica
Mr Slater said he also suffered prostate cancer.
He underwent medical treatment, including a radical prostatectomy, but the impact of the surgery continues.