EGLIN AFB — A local attorney and the attorney who argued the case of Vietnam Veterans exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange that led to a $180 million settlement in 1984 — the largest settlement of its kind at the time — are joining forces on behalf of civilian workers exposed to the chemical compound on Eglin Air Force Base ranges in the 1960s.
The two attorneys have drafted a complaint, but have not yet filed it in federal court, according to Santa Rosa Beach attorney Rusty Sanders. Sanders was approached some months ago by civilian workers for defense contractor Vitro Corporation, which was involved in applications of Agent Orange on the Eglin ranges.
Sanders subsequently brought in Upstate New York attorney Victor Yannacone, who took the Vietnam Veterans’ case and in the process, became an expert on Agent Orange.
The civilian workers’ case “is the same thing all over again,” Yannacone said Monday. One thing that’s different this time around, though, is that the 200-page potential court filing includes documentation indicating that manufacturers of Agent Orange knew that it was dangerous to humans, Yannacone said.
According to Yannacone and Sanders, the potential filing targets those manufacturers, including Monsanto, Dow, Diamond Shamrock and others, along with contractors including the successor company to Vitro Corporation.
Their effort is hampered, however, both men say, by a lack of resources. When the lawsuit is filed, Yannacone said, he and Sanders will be lined up against “seven major corporate law firms, and seven major corporations.”
“Unfortunately, you need tremendous financial resources,” Sanders said.
According to Sanders, he and Yannacone now are looking for some major law firms, or possibly a “public interest consortium,” to help them wage a legal battle on behalf of the former civilian range workers.
So far, about 30 former range workers and their families are named in the legal action, but Sanders said he also has a working list of many more former Vitro workers.
The potential legal action has attracted some attention in connection with a recent podcast for Living Downstream, an environmental justice initiative of Northern California Public Media. The 26-minute podcast was reported by New York City-based radio reporter Jon Kalish, who also reported on the Vietnam Veterans’ Agent Orange case.
In the podcast, online at https://bit.ly/2FP7DWi, a number of former Vitro employees recount their exposure to the chemical — used to defoliate Vietnamese jungles to deny hiding places to enemy troops — which included being sprayed themselves by the chemical as aircraft sprayed it from overhead, as often as three times weekly.
“I remember one time it was like thin mud,” one of the Vitro workers says in the podcast.
The spraying was recorded on film, and one worker recalled how he and others were instructed to ensure that the cameras were kept clean.
“They never told us anything about wiping ourselves down,” the worker said.
Also according to the podcast, titled “The Forgotten Civilians of Eglin Air Force Base,” when former Vitro workers happened to come into contact with each other a couple of decades after their work with Agent Orange, they began to realize through their conversations that many of them were experiencing serious medical issues, from cancer to thyroid problems to skin issues to rampant arthritis.
A couple of years ago, a number of the former Vitro workers who believe their medical issues — and medical problems suffered by some family members — are a result of exposure to Agent Orange, approached Sanders about taking their case. In turn, Sanders contacted Yannacone.
The looming question for those workers, Sanders said, is, “What can be done for them now?”