4. AGENT WHITE

When Agent Orange, that now well-known chemical killer, wasn't strong enough to do the job in Vietnam, the U.S. Army brought in a defoliant known as Agent White.

Agent White is a powerful pesticide manufactured and sold by Dow Chemical under the trade name or Tordon. It is an agricultural chemical called picloram. Tordon products are so poisonous that the EPA, which registers more than 2,000 pesticides, classifies Tordon as one of 37 "restricted use" pesticides. It can be lawfully applied only by trained applicators with a special permit. Nonetheless it is one of the more popular broad-leaf and woody-brush killers used.

It is used most heavily in forested rural areas like Cherokee County, N.C. Now, Cherokee County residents believe that picloram, liberally applied to forest and farmland from one end of Cherokee to the other for as long as anyone can remember, is washing off the land and poisoning the ground-water supplies from which most county residents draw their water. And, they believe it is killing more than vegetation.

In 1976, almost one in seven people died in Cherokee from cancer, a figure below the national average. By 1979, nearly one in four died of cancer countywide -- 60 percent above the nation's average and nearly double the state average. Since 1979, Cherokee physicians say cancer-related deaths appear to be even more numerous.

But Dow Chemical claims that Tordon is no more lethal than table salt. Dow bases its evidence on two studies done by Industrial Biotest Labs of Illinois (see "Fraudulent Testing Provides Illusion of Safety" synopsis) and a third by GulfSouth Research Institute, All three studies were found to be grossly deficient and extremely questionable.

The fears of Cherokee County was supported by Dr. Melvin Reuber, considered to be one of the nation's best pathologists working with carcinogenic chemicals entering the environment. His research, reported in a paper titled "Carcinogenicity of Picloram," published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, contradicted the findings of Gulf South and Dow researchers.

Tordon is used from coast to coast not only by governmental agencies but privately as well. The people of Cherokee County and other rural areas deserve to be warned by their government of the possible long term effects of picloram spraying -- and offered the opportunity to say "don't spray." But since the EPA appears lax in furnishing the public with such warnings, it should be up to the news media to sound the alarm.

SOURCE: Inquiry, 3/15/82, "Agent White: It Kills Weeds, Bushes, Trees -- and Maybe People," by Keith Schneider.