FAIRBANKS - A search of Alaska soils has failed to find traces of the world's deadliest manmade toxin, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report.
The report says it is unlikely that Agent Orange was used to kill vegetation along the Alaska section of a 1960s-era petroleum pipeline that ran from Haines to Fairbanks.
The report satisfied the state's initial concerns over the possibility that the toxin might be present along the old pipeline route that runs parallel to the Alaska and Richardson highways.
Agent Orange, a herbicide used during the Vietnam War, has been linked to numerous health problems, including cancer and diabetes in Vietnam veterans, as well as birth defects in their children.
During the herbicide's manufacturing process, a substance known as dioxin accidentally formed in some batches. Dioxin is dangerous even in minute amounts.
The testing for the substance in Alaska came after Tanana Chiefs Conference Inc. forwarded a report to the corps and DEC in late 2002. The report, provided to TCC by the Chilkoot Native Association of Canada, contained old U.S. military correspondence to the Canadian government that suggested Agent Orange was used to clear brush along the 626-mile pipeline.
The pipeline was built in 1954-55 and was in use until 1971, supplying petroleum products from a deep-sea port in Haines to military bases in the Interior.
The Department of Environmental Conservation asked the corps to test the former military project, said DEC environmental specialist Bob Glascott. The samples went to multiple labs, including one for quality assurance.
Glascott said that while the state was satisfied with the report, it doesn't mean that Agent Orange couldn't have been used along the pipeline.
"If we find more information or new information comes to light, they'll have to go out and do some additional sampling," he said.
The corps took 29 samples - six were for background - along 326 miles of the pipeline.
Pam Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, an environmental watchdog group, said that's not enough.
"You can't talk about impacts by simply doing a small handful of samples along 300-plus miles of pipeline and draw false conclusions of safety based on such a small section of pipeline," she said.
However, the corps findings were good news to members of one family living off the Alaska Highway near Delta Junction. One soil sample was taken five miles from their home.
"I'm relieved," said Sandy Dighton. "We were concerned. Our garden sits right on the right of way. We've raised pigs in a pen right on there for food."