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2000-01-07

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Today we bring you the second part of a debate on the health effects of Agent Orange–the chemical agent that the U.S. sprayed on Vietnam during the war. [includes rush transcript]

Just this past Sunday, Retired Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., who was commander of U.S. naval operations during part of the Vietnam War, died. He was commander of naval operations in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970 and ordered much of the spraying of Agent Orange along Vietnamese waterways. In later years, Zumwalt blamed the defoliant, which contained the toxic chemical dioxin, for the death from cancer of his own son, Elmo Zumwalt III.

Twenty five years after the fall of Saigon, millions of Vietnamese are still contaminated with dioxin, after being exposed to the chemical for the past several decades.

Guest:

  • Dr. Arnold Schecter, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health (Dallas campus). He has researched the effects of Agent Orange for years and has written over a hundred publications on the subject. He has also been to Vietnam about 15 times to study Agent Orange contamination in the country, and traveled there in 1994 with Admiral Zumwalt, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, who died a few days ago.
  • Steven J. Milloy, Editor of junkscience.com and adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we bring you the second part of a debate on the health effects of Agent Orange, the chemical agent that the U.S. sprayed on Vietnam during the war. This past Sunday, retired Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., who was commander of U.S. Naval Operations during part of the Vietnam War, died. He was Commander of Naval Operations in Vietnam from ’68 to ’70 and ordered much of the spraying of Agent Orange. In later years, Zumwalt blamed the defoliant, which contained the toxic chemical dioxin, for the death from cancer of his own son, Elmo Zumwalt III.

Well, a quarter of a century after the fall of Saigon, millions of Vietnamese are still dealing with the effects of dioxin after being exposed to the chemical for several decades. And we’re joined by two people: Dr. Arnold Schecter, who’s a professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health, and Steven Milloy, who is editor of JunkScience.com and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.

Steven Milloy, you were speaking yesterday about the effects of Agent Orange, saying you thought that they were overblown.

STEVEN MILLOY: Right. Well, where we left off yesterday, and I didn’t get a chance to respond to Dr. — Mr. Schecter, was about the science of dioxin and Agent Orange. Mr. Schecter reeled off a list of studies and proclamations by groups that he thought showed that dioxin was a carcinogen causing all sorts of human health effects. Well, the facts are the most recent effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to label dioxin as a carcinogen was rejected by the Scientific Advisory Board.

The Institute of Medicine report that Mr. Schecter referred to about Agent Orange, the leading scientists on dioxin were not even — were not invited or resigned from participation because they knew that that Institute of Medicine board was a put-up job.

But, you know, we can argue about the science of dioxin and Agent Orange all day, and the audience will be no wiser. I think the best way for the audience to decide what’s going on is by a report that we’ve recently published. Everyone knows about Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and Ben & Jerry tries to be greener than green. Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s is on Greenpeace’s board. Greenpeace —

AMY GOODMAN: No longer.

STEVEN MILLOY: Well, Greenpeace is Ben & Jerry’s science adviser. We tested Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for dioxin, and we found levels of dioxin in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be two hundred times greater than what the EPA says is the commercially safe dose for dioxin. Now, Ben & Jerry’s continues to sell its ice cream, even though it has these high levels of dioxin. The environmental community doesn’t seem to care. If dioxin’s so dangerous, why is it that no one cares? Why are we — why are we allowed to purchase Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? It’s crazy. There’s — dioxin is not harmful. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is safe. There’s absolutely no science to show that dioxin is dangerous. This is just politics by environmentalists. The Vietnamese just want to shake down the U.S. government for money. This is total nonsense.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Arnold Schecter, you’re Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health, and you’re the person who people, if watching TV after the death of Admiral Zumwalt, might have seen standing next to him. You arranged his trip to Vietnam, the highest-ranking U.S. official to have gone there. What is your response to Steven Milloy?

DR. ARNOLD SCHECTER: Well, I hardly know where to start, but let me try to help the gentleman who represents JunkScience and tell him what scientists do believe. He’s just given us a number of inaccuracies, almost as great as his amazing belief that cigarettes do not cause health effects in humans. But let’s go over it, what he has said, plus a transcript I have of a recent TV interview of his, where I have word-by-word his comments, which are highly incorrect, based on scientific articles published by peer review.

First, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, a highly regarded agency, has published three reports, which the Veterans’ Administration has then used to compensate veterans potentially exposed to Agent Orange, because the Institute of Medicine’s panel of scientists believe that a number of cancers and other diseases, either there is a sufficient evidence of association — there probably is — or there isn’t.

The World Health Organization, as long ago as 1977, Volume 69, IARC reports, with a highly prestigious committee of National Institute of Health scientists, U.S. EPA scientists, university scientists from America and Europe, concluded that the dioxin found in Agent Orange should be upgraded to "known human carcinogen." It causes cancer in humans, and it is one of a small group of chemicals so designated.

In addition —- I mean, to me, that is quite a bit more serious than this temporary skin disease that the gentleman representing JunkScience on your show is talking about. In fact, what do we know about the Vietnamese and what do we know about others? The number of publications from the U.S. EPA, the draft reassessment, which was presented to the Science Advisory Board was not, I repeat, not rejected -—

STEVEN MILLOY: It was.

DR. ARNOLD SCHECTER: — by the EPA Science Advisory Board. What they did was to ask the EPA to have several of their chapters, of their nine chapters, rewritten, which EPA has done and is giving, this month, back to the reviewers to look at. Those are being reevaluated.

There was no feeling that dioxin is not a probable human carcinogen, which is EPA’s current position, is also the position of the Centers for Disease Control, the Agency for Toxic Disease in Substance Registry, the U.S. Public Health Service, the U.S. National Toxicology Program and numerous other government agencies at the very highest level.

This is based on peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals. The Vietnamese have, in fact, been shown to have very high blood levels of dioxin and —- what you’ve said in your recent television interview, that dioxins go into the blood and then permanently move into the fat and do not move out, is absolutely wrong. Scientists all over the world have shown that there’s an equilibrium. The dioxin that moves into the fat and other tissues is in communication with the blood and other organs of the body for as long as we’d have found it for as long as thirty-six years after exposure in workers -—

STEVEN MILLOY: If dioxin is so dangerous, what about the ice cream?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. Milloy —

DR. ARNOLD SCHECTER: Well, the ice cream is very — I’m glad you brought that up. You did not, in fact, commission a dioxin test. I read the entire report. What you commissioned was a CALUX test, not a dioxin test.

STEVEN MILLOY: What are you talking about?

DR. ARNOLD SCHECTER: A CALUX test measures other chemicals.

STEVEN MILLOY: It measures all the dioxin.

DR. ARNOLD SCHECTER: No. It measures any Ah —- it measures any chemical which will react to the Ah receptor, including dioxins. If you had followed the recent literature -—

STEVEN MILLOY: All the dioxins [inaudible].

DR. ARNOLD SCHECTER: If you had followed the recent literature, you would have seen the founder of the CALUX test, Dr. Michael Denison from the University of California at last year’s Dioxin International Symposium describe the strengths and weaknesses of the test. It is not a substitute for the measure of dioxins —

STEVEN MILLOY: Every [inaudible] —

JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. Milloy —

STEVEN MILLOY: —- consistent with your scientific literature. Your own studies -—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. Milloy, Mr. Milloy, I’d like to ask you — when I was a reporter at the Philadelphia Daily News in the early 1980s, I did a quite a bit of reporting on this Agent Orange controversy. And I’d like to ask you, if what you’re saying is so, that dioxin is not deadly or problematic in terms of causing illnesses for American troops — I remember interviewing scores of — in the early 1980s — of Vietnam veterans in the Philadelphia area who were encountering enormous health difficulties. And I remember writing back then to the Minister of Health of North Vietnam to see if they had any studies, long before there were any allegations that the Vietnamese government was requesting any kind of compensation, and found that the Vietnamese government had done studies of soldiers who had been in the south and then come back to the north versus soldiers who had only stayed in the north and therefore could not have been exposed to any Agent Orange spraying. And they found significant problems, not just in terms of cancers, but in terms of birth defects in their children, in terms of sterility and a series of other problems. Are all these things being concocted or imagined by people?

STEVEN MILLOY: [inaudible] Agent Orange. The U.S. solders, when they tried to match up areas that were sprayed with Agent Orange with dioxin levels in servicemen’s blood, they couldn’t do it. The servicemen that were in the areas that were sprayed had background levels of dioxin. So they can’t even confirm the exposure.

As far as the health effects, the most heavily exposed group were the servicemen that were in the Air Force that were in Operation Ranch Hand. And there are no health effects there. And you can go to Air Force researchers, you can go HHS researchers, they will tell you that Operation Ranch Hand veterans showed no effects from Agent Orange.

AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Milloy, I just want to say that yesterday, after we did the first part of the show, a listener called in to say why are we having you on from JunkScience.com, because you’re not a scientist, as Dr. Schecter is, but the reason —

STEVEN MILLOY: I’m a statistician. How can you say that?

AMY GOODMAN: Let me just say, that the reason that we did ask you to come on is that you’re frequently on television. We saw you on CNN after Admiral Zumwalt died, talking about the effects of Agent Orange, and that is helping to shape public opinion. And just as we often do on Democracy Now!, as you heard at the — well, the first half of the show we were looking at the money behind the candidates, I wanted to ask: who funds JunkScience.com?

STEVEN MILLOY: I fund JunkScience myself. You know it cost $10.00 a month to have a website. That’s ridiculous.

AMY GOODMAN: In terms of corporate money and corporations you have represented, who are they?

STEVEN MILLOY: I don’t represent anybody. I don’t lobby for anybody. I don’t represent anybody. This is ridiculous.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me just ask —

STEVEN MILLOY: So now I’m being attacked —

AMY GOODMAN: I just —

STEVEN MILLOY: Wait a second, no. Now I’m being attacked, because you guys don’t like what I’m saying, because you can’t defend against what I’m saying, so it’s —- it’s going to turn into some sort of personal smear like -—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, in the book —

STEVEN MILLOY: — like Schecter said I don’t think that cigarettes are harmful. That’s ridiculous.

AMY GOODMAN: In the book — just one sec. In the book Washington Representative, which is a list of lobbyists of 1999, you’re — you’re in there as a lobbyist for EOP, which is basically a lobby firm for the Who’s Who of corporate America, from Dow Chemical, which is a maker of Agent Orange, Monsanto, American Petroleum. And so, you are listed as a lobbyist for them.

STEVEN MILLOY: I don’t use — I don’t even —- I’m not associated with the EOP group. Years ago, I used to work for them as a technical consultant, because I’m a statistician and -—

AMY GOODMAN: So the book this year is wrong?

STEVEN MILLOY: Wait a second, wait a second, just listen to me. The way the laws are in Washington, anybody that works for a consulting firm or a law firm basically gets registered as a lobbyist. I never did any lobbying. You can’t find one person in the federal government that I’ve ever lobbied for anything.

AMY GOODMAN: You also are listed, though, as a scholar at Cato, and Cato certainly has a lot of this kind of money. And hasn’t — doesn’t Cato fund your books?

STEVEN MILLOY: Well, everybody takes — look, Greenpeace takes corporate money from Ben & Jerry’s.

AMY GOODMAN: No, I’m not asking about the other organizations. I’m just asking about yours.

STEVEN MILLOY: What difference — the money is — look, this is a discussion on the science between Arnold Schecter and me. And I don’t think that Schecter can really defend himself, defend the science. There’s nothing — there’s no science that shows that Agent Orange dioxin is harmful. It doesn’t matter how I earn a living or who I am or the color of my hair, what matters is what I’m saying, and I don’t see that that’s being really successfully attacked. I see I’m being smeared, but that’s — you know, that’s ridiculous. That’s not an argument.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Schecter?

DR. ARNOLD SCHECTER: I’ve described the most prestigious American scientific organizations in the world —- World Health Organization, all of which have concluded that dioxin causes serious illness and death in humans, and these have been -—

STEVEN MILLOY: Your own research finds that there’s heavy amounts of dioxin in [inaudible] —

DR. ARNOLD SCHECTER: — these have been published and are readily accessible. I would suggest that the gentleman representing JunkScience read these first, and then I’m amazed —- I would be amazed if he could conclude what he has. I would say -—

STEVEN MILLOY: Arnold Schecter’s own research shows [inaudible] —

JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. Milloy, let Dr. Schecter finish.

DR. ARNOLD SCHECTER: I would say that the reason for doing research in Vietnam is that is where the highest level of dioxins have been found, the biggest exposure in the blood or milk, not in the veterans, and I’m working on the veteran studies at this time, and have been in the past. And the largest number of men, woman and children in the world exposed to dioxin are in Vietnam — and to Agent Orange are in Vietnam.

It is to the — it will help our veterans to find out what health effects, at what levels, are caused by the dioxin in Agent Orange, and that’s the reason we want to do this. It’s essential to determine what levels are causing the diabetes, the cancer, the cancer death, immune deficiency, the problems in the next generation.

I do agree also that we do not know how to interpret the Vietnamese suggestive findings, because their statistical approaches on the birth defects and cancers are not of a high enough level to be anything more than suggestive. We do not know whether any of those malformed children or cancer victims that we saw are due to dioxins or other causes. And that is, in fact, the reason to go to Vietnam and determine that, to help the Vietnamese, all people exposed to dioxins. And dioxins were not always with us and not always [inaudible] people —

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, Dr. Schecter and Steven Milloy we do have to wrap up the discussion, and I just want to add, based on the piece yesterday in Mother Jones, we had on the author Bob Dreyfuss, who said when he talked to a State Department official in Vietnam and asked if the U.S. was doing studies in Vietnam, he said they were afraid about the issue of liability. Well, that does it for today’s program. Steven Milloy’s website is JunkScience.com. Dr. Arnold Schecter is professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health.

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