FAIRBANKS - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will start digging in Tok this summer in the search for six barrels of the dangerous herbicide Agent Orange.
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It is presumed that Agent Orange was buried in the area nearly 40 years ago. The Army Corps learned about the barrels in 2002 when a former Department of Defense employee claimed to have been on a team ordered by the Army in the late 1960s to bury the 55-gallon barrels at what was then a military equipment yard in Tok.
Electromagnetic surveys in the area last summer detected something buried about 6 or 7 feet below ground in an area of town less than a mile from the Alaska Highway. The Army Corps will dig in the area to look for the barrels starting this summer and possibly extending into next summer.
If the dig reveals that the barrels exist and are filled with Agent Orange, the Army Corps will begin sampling soil in the area for signs of leaks or contamination. The Agent Orange used as a herbicide during the Vietnam War contains dioxin, an incredibly toxic and persistent substance that is now banned in the United States. It has been linked to cancer, diabetes and birth defects
So far, neither the state nor the Army Corps have found any contamination in the Tok area, about 200 miles southeast of Fairbanks. Tok does not have a central water or sewer system. Most homes use individual wells.
The project won't get under way until the state finishes reviewing the Army Corps' work plan for digging up the barrels, according to John Halverson with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
The barrels are one of two known uses of Agent Orange in the Tok area. When it learned about the barrels, the Department of Environmental Conservation had been investigating an Army correspondence from the late 1960s indicating the military used Agent Orange to clear vegetation along a 626-mile pipeline connecting Fairbanks and Haines.
The area where the barrels are believed to be buried originally served as a special communications outpost for the U.S. Air Force and then as a military equipment yard into the 1970s, but now belongs to Nugget Construction Inc., a private company.
The Army Corps originally planned to dig up the barrels in 2005, but a dispute with the construction company delayed the project.