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Korea, U.S. begin Agent Orange probe

U.S. tested highly toxic defoliants in 5 countries including Korea in 1960s


South Korean and U.S. officials on Friday began collecting groundwater samples near a U.S. army base in the south, a day after agreeing on a joint probe into the alleged burial of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange by American troops about three decades ago.

The investigation began after former U.S. soldiers told a U.S. television station early this month that they buried large amounts of the dangerous chemical in 1978 at a heliport inside Camp Carroll in Chilgok, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

Experts from the Environment Ministry and the National Institute of Environmental Research began taking groundwater samples at 10 locations around Camp Carroll with U.S. officials present.

“The groundwater samples will be analyzed by different environmental labs such as the NIER,” a ministry official said.

“It will take more than two weeks for the results to come out.”

Korea and the U.S. are set to begin a joint inspection inside Camp Carroll next week as soon as U.S. environmental experts arrive here. The survey within the U.S. army bases will be led by the USFK with the Korean officials watching.

Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, commander of the 8th U.S. Army and lead investigator into the allegations, said Thursday that ground-penetrating radar devices will be mobilized next week to identify the substances buried at Camp Carroll.

“If we get evidence that there is a risk to health, we are going to fix it,” Johnson told a local radio station.

Early this week, U.S. Forces Korea said a 1992 study showed a “large amount” of pesticides, herbicides and solvents were buried at Camp Carroll in 1978, but were removed and taken to an unknown site during the following two years.

The USFK also said its review of records found “trace amounts” of dioxin in a 2004 test at the site, but the findings do not “directly” indicate that Agent Orange was buried there.

It has been confirmed, in the meanwhile, that the U.S. had conducted tested highly toxic defoliants in five other countries including South Korea in the 1960s.

According to a U.S. government document disclosed by a U.S. veterans group called “Vets Helping Vets,” a botanical research institute in Fort Detrick, Maryland, sent various kinds of defoliants to the frontline units in South Korea in 1968.

Fort Detrick is a U.S. Army Medical Command installation which was historically the center for the country’s biological weapons program between 1943 and 1969.

According to the document, the U.S. also sprayed Agent Orange in Cambodia in June 1969, sprayed or experimented defoliants in Canada in June 1967, Laos in December 1965, Thailand in 1965.

The U.S. forces also experimented defoliants in India between 1945 and 1946, Puerto Rico in 1956 and burned 2.22 million gallons of Agent Orange in the ocean in 1977.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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