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article imageBarrels of agent orange chemicals found in Oregon lake

By Karen Graham     Jun 15, 2019 in Environment
Joseph - Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week began the removal of barrels recently discovered at the bottom of Wallowa Lake marked as containing chemicals used in making agent orange.
When Lisa Anderson, a member of the diving group Blue Mountain Divers, swept her hand across a silt-covered barrel sitting on the bottom of Lake Wallowa last August, she says her heart almost stopped.
“When my hand wiped across the label, it was definitely an OMG moment,” Anderson wrote on Facebook. The warning was written in big letters, she said: “Read Label! Contains 2,4-D or 2,4,5-T Weed Killer.” The finding was serious because the lake provides drinking water for the nearby town of Joseph
The two chemicals, if combined, were once used to make Agent Orange, used extensively by the U.S. military as a defoliant during the Vietnam War. Its use has been connected to numerous health problems in civilians and veterans who were exposed.
Wallowa Lake is a ribbon lake 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Joseph  Oregon.
Wallowa Lake is a ribbon lake 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Joseph, Oregon.
Mike Chapman
The dive group contacted the Oregon DEQ. “The lake is a treasured gem and to find this barrel is alarming to many people,” she told the agency in her written report, which she submitted with photos and video, reports Oregon Live.
These events happened in August 2018. Instead of a quick response, the dive group waited - for months. In the 10 months after the barrels of possibly dangerous chemicals were discovered, the DEQ's only action has been to examine the town of Joseph’s routine drinking water test results, which look every three years for 2,4-D, the less toxic of the two chemicals. It hasn’t been detected in sampling that started in 1984.
Believe it or not, but the chemical, 2,4,5-T, an herbicide unavoidably contaminated by dioxin during its manufacturing, was sprayed in Oregon forests in the 1970s. Its use was halted in 1979 when the EPA determined that its dioxin contamination was possibly causing frequent miscarriages in women living along the Alsea River in Oregon’s Coast Range.
The type of dioxin found in 2,4,5-T is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA. “A lot of people would say it’s one of the most toxic synthetic substances known,” said Deke Gunderson, an environmental toxicology professor at Pacific University.
Needless to say, after numerous news reports about the possible danger sitting on the lake bottom, the DEQ started testing for both chemicals. They took their first samples Tuesday, but it will take several days to get the results.
U.S. Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnam
U.S. Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnam
U.S. Army Operations in Vietnam R.W. Trewyn, Ph.D.
“We’re ramping up into the big tourist season there,” said Laura Gleim, a Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman. “We’re wanting to make sure it’s safe and that people feel comfortable using the lake. Or, if it’s unsafe, we want to take precautions to let people know about that.”
Even the EPA has finally responded. A week ago, the Wallowa County Chieftain newspaper reported the EPA planned to pull them out as late as October. This week, an EPA official said the drums could be sitting in water between 90 and 140 feet deep, which, combined with cold temperatures in the lake, could complicate the process of obtaining the barrels, reports The Hill.
More about Oregon, Wallowa Lake, Agent orange, Epa, Vietnam war
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