Toxic Defoliant Use in DMZ May See Class-Action Suit

      November 16, 1999 20:03

      According to declassified documents sent as a reply to Senator John Glenn by the U.S. Department of the Army (USDA), which included a USFK management plan forwarded to the department in 1968, defoliant Agents Orange, Blue and Monuron were sprayed along the DMZ during 1968 to 1969 with the support and agreement of the South Korean government of the time. The documents stated that, "as there have been continuous infiltrations by North Korean commando teams, the commanders of the USFK including the commander of the 1st army corps have been recommending since 1963 the use of defoliant to provide easier target acquisition and firing solutions."

      The USDA "Vegetation Control Program CY-1968" continues; "In 1967, they tested defoliant in certain areas and decided that it was desirable to introduce it over wide areas. In September 1967, USFK Bohnsteel recommended this measure which was endorsed by Prime Minister Chung Il-kwon and Secretary of State Dean Rusk gave permission for its use. On January 12, 1968 the South Korean Ministry of National defence announced the plan to spray defoliant at the DMZ. The U.S. personnel only advised the South Korean personnel and did not conduct any of the actual spray missions, this was undertaken by the South Korean 1st army command. In the U.S. 2nd infantry division zone of the DMZ, defoliant was sprayed by the 98th combat engineering brigade."

      Defoliant was sprayed by up to 70,000 South Korean soldiers over the two year period in areas "to improve observation and fields of fire and to deny hostile forces the concealment provided by vegetation." The defoliants were so toxic that U.S. forces stopped using them in 1972 after use during the Vietnam War. In the latter conflict, 48,000 South Korea troops were exposed to Agent Orange, of which 2,755 have been recognized as victims of, and 20,618 are suspected of suffering from, side effects of the toxic defoliant. All receive subsidized pensions to cover related medical costs.

      To date the governments of the U.S. and South Korea have been reluctant to comment on the use of defoliant, but an American veteran obtained a copy of the declassified USFK communique to the USDA and used it in a lawsuit which recognized him as a victim of the side effects. South Korean commanders at the time failed to provide their men with the appropriate protective clothing as "using hand and trailer mounted apparatus" they conducted the defoliant operation.

      In contrast to Vietnam veterans, no veterans of the spraying operation complained of suffering from side effects, indicating that possible weaker variants of the defoliants were used. It is expected that a class action suit may be pursued for compensation from the U.S. and South Korean governments and the manufacturer. Currently 24,000 U.S. and 1,200 Australian Vietnam War veterans have been recognized and are receiving compensation.

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