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It is a 33-year-old mystery that has gnawed at retired sergeant Al White's conscience.

The now-former military police officer told CBC News that, before sunrise on a clear morning in the late spring of 1985, he was ordered to escort a Department of National Defence flatbed truck along an empty road at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick. The journey took just minutes and ended in shadows just off the road, where an excavator had dug a wide, fresh pit in the spongy soil.

On the flatbed were over 40 full or semi-full barrels in various conditions. Some were solid, others were dented, rusted or in various states of decay. Almost all of them were wrapped with an orange stripe.

"At the time, I didn't think much of it," White told CBC News. "I just did the task and it wasn't until some time later that it really, really hit home to me."

Very few words were exchanged between White, the truck driver and the operator of the excavator. The barrels were dumped into the pit and covered over.

What Al White said he witnessed that morning three decades back was the burial of leftover Agent Orange, the notorious chemical defoliant linked to various types of cancer that was used in secret spraying experiments by the U.S. at the Gagetown military base in New Brunswick — something which would blow up into a major public policy issue 20 years later.

An eyewitness account

​White said he was told at the time what the barrels contained. Experts and activists who have followed the case — and who fought the federal government for compensation for military personnel and civilians affected by defoliant spraying at Gagetown — said White's statement is the first eyewitness account they've heard of the base disposing of stocks of Agent Orange.

"This is quite an interesting development from my perspective," said Wayne Dwernychuk, a expert who spent over 15 years studying Agent Orange contamination and its effects on combatants during the war in Vietnam.

Much of the public controversy in New Brunswick over a dozen years ago related to the secret spraying program. Agent Orange was sprayed at CFB Gagetown in 1966 and 1967 by the U.S. military, with permission from Canada.

It's now known that exposure can lead to skin disorders, liver problems and certain types of cancers. The Canadian government set aside almost $100 million in 2007 for Canadians harmed by defoliants at the base. In 2011, Ottawa also reversed a decision to reject compensation for dozens of soldiers and their families exposed to the defoliant who later became ill.

What makes White's account remarkable, Dwernychuk said, is that it's the first hint of an answer to a nagging question about the Gagetown spraying program: do we know what happened to all of the leftover defoliant?

Al White in uniform in the mid-1980s. "I just felt ... enough about hiding stuff. Bring it out into the public." (Submitted photo)

Source : http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/agent-orange-gagetown-eyewitness-1.4673641

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