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.
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.