Don’t Drink the Agent Orange!

by Michael Paul Hill, originally published on March 6, 2015


In June of 1964, helicopters from the U.S. Geological Survey began spraying an herbicidal chemical along the Gila and San Carlos rivers. The chemical herbicide was used to remove salt cedars along the rivers so that water runoff from the rain would be maximized for commercial and industrial water use in lakes, rivers and streams. Salt cedar, an invasive plant species, was brought to the area from the Mediterrean and African regions. It grows along waterways and uses a lot of water in order to maintain its life.

This odorless herbicide’s scientific names are 2-4-5-TP or 2-4-5 D, but it’s commonly known as Agent Orange, one of the worst chemicals ever known to mankind. The herbicide was used to spray salt cedar on the San Carlos River and indigenous peoples in other parts of the world.

It was popularized during the Vietnam War when the United States sprayed this chemical on the high canopy tree stands of the Vietnamese forests to kill vegetation. Even U.S. veterans were victimized by this chemical, and to this day, those who had contact with Agent Orange have become sick with many types of diseases and cancers that were unknown prior to the creation of this dangerous chemical. Diseases associated with Agent Orange contamination include Type 2 diabetes, liver and heart disease, birth defects (two row teeth, cleft pallet) spina bifida, neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, Alzheimer’s disease, and many others.

In 1969, areas near Kellner Canyon and Ice House Canyon near the Pinal Mountains were also sprayed for five years, and the San Carlos and Gila Rivers were contaminated. After the spraying in the off-reservation town of Globe, residents who were contaminated sued Dow Chemical, the makers of the Agent Orange, and the government of the United States. The case, Shoecraft V. Dow Chemical, went before the U.S. District in Phoenix and was settled out of court in the early 1980s. On the other hand, San Carlos Apache tribal members have yet to receive redress of their grievances, harm to health, and deaths that have been perpetuated by this witches brew.

Who are the makers of such witches brew and what it does?

Monsanto, the world’s largest agricultural corporation, along with Dow Chemical and DuPont are the creators of the witches brew called Agent Orange. Agent Orange was made for chemical warfare and was tested on the Apaches prior to the Vietnam War. Admiral Elmo Zumwelt of the Department of Navy was in charge of the Agent Orange spraying in Vietnam which was named Operation Ranch Hand. The way Agent Orange got it name was by the color stripe painted on the 55-gallon drum barrels.

Some of the other chemicals that were made during that time were Agent White, Agent Blue, and other lethal chemicals used now in food crops and herbicides in farmlands across the United States. Recently, the U.S. Forest Service used a different mixture of the 2-4-5- TP in the Tonto National Forest, which is now renamed 3-5-6-TP and is as deadly as the Agent Orange herbicide used salt cedars along the Gila and San Carlos rivers.

What do we do now?

In the 50th anniversary of spraying of Agent Orange occurred June 2014. Community members concerned about the effects of Agent Orange met in front of the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s offices to discuss legal remedies and redress for the harm and damages our people suffered. It’s also important to note that the United States government has breached its trust responsibility by spraying chemicals that are causing harm to the San Carlos Apache people.

It is prudent and just for us to hold those responsible for the after-effects of chemical spraying that was conducted without the free, prior and informed consent of San Carlos Apache tribal members. We all drink the water, including other indigenous nations downstream and citizens of Arizona who rely the polluted rivers of the San Carlos, Gila, and Salt rivers. It’s time to hold them accountable.

Michael Paul Hill is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe who has been advocating for Indigenous rights, with an emphasis on cultural and spiritual rights, for several years in Apache territory, at the United Nations, and other places worldwide.

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