KENORA – In the spring of 2011 a Toronto Star investigation uncovered the Ontario Government’s past use of Agent Orange – a herbicide associated with potential long-term health problems.
The news was particularly troubling for northerners, many of whom were involved in spraying programs with the Ministry of Transportation (MTO), Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), and Ontario Hydro between the mid-1940s and mid-1970s.
Agent Orange Used for 30 Years
After public pressure from the NDP, the government agreed to create an independent panel to review the use of Herbicide 2,4,5-T, popularly known as Agent Orange, in Ontario. That panel was charged with determining not only where and how it was used, but if exposure levels were high enough to cause long-term health concerns.
Their report has now been released, and, while the panel admits records from that time are not as reliable as they would have liked, they found that the number of individuals with exposure levels high enough to cause health problems to be relatively low, and dependent on the number of years involved in spraying, the position and department employed in, as well as whether safety equipment was used.
Unfortunately, records from that time do not indicate if equipment such as safety glasses and shields, respiratory equipment and impervious clothing were being used. Records suggest that some departments began taking safety precautions in the mid-1960s, even though the Ministry of Labour didn’t require their use until 1976.
For MTO employees, the panel found that a small number of individuals may have exceeded the benchmark for exposure, with those working in mixing, loading and application positions being at a higher risk.
Some Ontario Hydro employees who worked in mixing, loading and application positions may also be affected.
With regard to MNR employees, the panel found that some of those involved in backpack mixing, loading and application, as well as some Junior Rangers charged with working in the areas of aerial mixing, loading and flagging may have also exceeded the threshold for safe exposure.
It is important to remember that while some individuals may have exceed the benchmark for potential side affects, not all will experience health problems as a result of this exposure.
While I have some concerns with the way the government has handled this file, I believe the immediate focus needs to be on the health and safety of the workers who feel they may be suffering health problems as a result of their employment.=20
If you believe that you are suffering health problems resulting from the use of Agent Orange, the Provincial Government has set up a dedicated toll-free line that you can call for more information: 1-888-338-3364.
This is in addition to a dedicated line at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB): 1-800-387-0750. For those who feel that they may be suffering from health problems with Agent Orange, I strongly recommend visiting a doctor before approaching WSIB, and keeping copies of all supporting documentation and forms that you fill out.
If you require further assistance or advice, please do not hesitate to contact my offices at 1-800-465-8501.
Sarah Campbell MPP