It’s not who done it. It’s what will we do now?

The Toronto Star broke a story recently about the use of Agent Orange in Northern Ontario. They learned that, beginning in 1957, 2,4,5 T (the dioxin laden version of Agent Orange) was used in the Kapuskasing and Hearst area forests to deal with competing broad-leaf undergrowth and help the black spruce stands grow.

2,4,5 T is linked to a number of cancers and other health problems that arise from the way the dioxin remains in the system for decades. It was only in 1985 that the chemical compound was deregulated by the federal government. While it was approved, a great deal of damage was done to our environment and to the people who were directly affected by the spraying.

Soon, it became apparent the use of 2,4,5 T was rampant in that period and not just for forestry management. Hydro lines were cleared with it and airport runways were also sprayed to control plant growth and there is every possibility it was used in other areas as well. Most people who worked with the chemical did so without protective clothing. The Toronto Star indicates that 4 of the 5 supervisors from the Hearst area spraying have either been diagnosed with or died of cancer.

One of the most appalling elements of the story we heard was that college students and even Junior Rangers were given the job of holding helium balloons for the planes to aim at while they dumped their load of toxins.

The Junior Rangers program took 17 year old Ontarians and placed them in camps where they worked alongside MNR staff. They got some job experience, a taste of the kind of work they could do if they chose forestry, fishery or wildlife management as a vocation, and the program had a 10 percent educational component to it as well. It continues to this day under the name, Ontario Rangers.

We live in an age of convenience, but need to be a whole lot more critical upfront so that we can reduce the kind of moments of discovery we are going through now. A great many people, who feel that we cannot afford to address our environmental problems because of the cost, need to take a look in the mirror. If we can’t afford to start doing things right, we may never be able to undo the damage. Money spent now on our environment will prevent health care costs in the future.

I often hear environmental concerns brushed aside with comments to the effect of, “we will develop technology to address the problem.” This is blind faith in its purest form and among the most dangerous arguments one can accept. The Agent Orange story we are watching unfold is proof that damage can often be impossible to undo.

In Question Period I asked the Minister of Health if she would work with all provinces and territories to determine the extent of this problem; something the province of Ontario is asking her to do. Her answer was unacceptable and I will continue to press the federal government to get involved in determining the extent of this important issue.