Sheri Richards remembers walking through a landscape of barren trees and brown grass as she went to school. It was only years later that she realized the Agent Orange that killed the plant life around her could also have affected her health.
The Colchester County resident's family moved to the military base in Gagetown, N.B., in the 1960s.
“I remember the grass being so beautiful and lush, and then it was all dead,” she said. “My sister remembers running behind trucks spraying chemicals. We had no idea any of this was dangerous.”
Between 1956 and 1984 Gagetown was sprayed with Agent Orange, Agent Purple and Agent White. The Canadian government used the herbicides to control plant growth on the base and the U.S. military did testing there for a couple of years.
“No one was warned about the danger,” said Richards. “My dad was a mechanic and worked on some of the vehicles that carried chemicals.”
She believes his exposure to chemicals could be the reason she was born club-footed and with a cleft palate. At age 52, she now struggles with fibromyalgia, degenerative discs, osteoarthritis, gastritis, kidney stones, bronchial asthma, macular degeneration, anxiety and panic, and heart issues. Because of an ovarian cyst she had a hysterectomy.
She’s on a disability allowance and has been prescribed several medications.
“Life shouldn’t be like this at my age,” she said. “My siblings have health problems too. We didn’t sign up for this.”
Her mother, who had lung and heart problems, and a stomach tumour, has died, and her father is living with vascular dementia and skin cancer.
“My siblings have health problems too. We didn’t sign up for this.”
Carol Brown Parker lived on the base from 1957 to 1973 and now has a home near Saint John, N.B. She saw so many of the people she grew up with dying young, or becoming very ill, that she formed the Agent Orange Association of Canada.
“A lot of the boys from high school and UNB did their summer jobs in the area, wearing sneakers and shorts, while spraying took place overhead,” she said. “A lot of them died when they were in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
“It’s quite sad that they hurt and killed us with terrible diseases and refused to look after any civilians.”
Brown Parker’s father was a drill sergeant, but when his health deteriorated he took a job looking after the officers’ mess.
“He didn’t know they were using such dangerous chemicals, and I spent a lot of time walking around the area with him,” she said. “A lot of this was expropriated land where people had been growing things, so we often picked berries and apples.
“Wind drift was a big thing and I don’t think they realized what it was doing. It even went across the river into communities. A lot of us were affected.”
She has nerve damage, severe headaches and other health problems.
She’d like to see a medical facility near Gagetown, where people affected by the spraying can get the treatment they need.
Richards would also like to see something done for those who were exposed to the chemicals as children.
“They didn’t warn our families about it and, as kids, we had no clue,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t even realize these were sprayed in Canada. It was covered up.”
More information can be found on the Agent Orange Association of Canada website.
Several herbicide mixtures got their commonly-used names from the colour-coded bands on the storage drums.
Along with Agent Orange, there were Agents White, Purple, Blue, Pink, and Green.