Tag Archives: Agent Orange

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Pinal Mts. – a pringlei forest and an environmental atrocity

September 2, 2013

You cross a pass in the Pinal Mts. on highway 77 from Winkleman to Globe. There is Arctostaphylos pungens growing at and below each side of the pass. In Globe you turn south again up a dirt road through a canyon to first one then a second saddle. There we walked west along the road for a few miles. Like everywhere else, there had been a large recent fire and this current summer is unusually wet.

At the first saddle there is mostly A. pungens growing but some A. pringlei. It was here that I first noticed that vegetative new growth of A. pringlei has green stems while A. pungens has red stems. Also, these new stems and leaves of A. pringlei don’t have the glandularity of some plants I have found. In Oak Creek Canyon I found an A. pringlei plant growing out of a road cut that was so glandular that there were particles of road grit stuck to it. These plants were not that way.

At the second saddle, A. pringlei was dominant and much larger, about eye level. A. pungens was also present as a smaller plant. Arctostaphylos of both species were the dominant plant with oaks anywhere on the mountain where there were no Pinus ponderosa or in the deeper canyons.

Along the road there were whole hilltops of A. pringlei some 2 or 3 meters high. An actual forest. (Brown, 1994) talks about A. pringlei plants some 4 to 5 meters high and with trunks 30 cm in diameter. I think this is a mistake as the Arizona Registry of Big Trees (Zahner, Morrow, 2005) has two A. pringlei in Arizona with 36 and 37 inch diameters. Most of the A. pringlei plants here were covered with berries. Saw several A. pungens at all elevations but they were small and scattered and one of them looked stressed with herbivore damage.

On the way back home I remembered a story somebody from Globe once told me about how he and his son were out fishing in Roosevelt Lake and a helicopter dumped some tanks of liquid near his boat. He and his son has had continuing health problems ever since. He claimed what was dumped was Agent Orange.

In the 1960′s someone had the bright idea that spraying herbicide on the interior chaparral would increase water flow in the canyons and to the Salt River Project which provided water to Phoenix. The result is a continuing environmental and human disaster and what could be a cover-up. I have found little about the spraying before 1969 except a couple of dates of 1965, 1966 and 1968. Nothing about the type of herbicide used although there are rumors of barrels of pesticide found in several buildings on the San Carlos Apache Reservation and disposed of by the BIA (Government Indian, 2011). In June of 1969, however, there was spraying in the canyons of the Pinal Mountains just north of Globe and people living in Kellner Canyon were sprayed. The herbicide was purchased by Dow Chemical and was Agent Orange. There are reports that the herbicide was mixed with water instead of oil and that there were high winds during some of the spraying days so that the chemical was dispersed over a much higher area than intended. Adverse health effects to both humans and animals were reported soon after (Morelock, 1994). In February of 1970 the Department of Agriculture issued a report concluding that there was no danger to the health of residents, livestock or cultivated plants and that the effects of the spraying were minimal (Dept of Agriculture, 1970). One of the victims, Robert McCray, led a crusade to find the truth about the extent of the poisoning that only ended with his death in 2009 (McCray, 2009).  He created a registry of cancer cases in Globe and found cases of unusual cancers that are associated with Agent Orange. In 1986, the EPA sent investigators to Globe and issued it’s own report and found high dioxin levels at the old helicopter landing site. Dioxin is a highly toxic bi-product of the breakdown of Agent Orange. In 1987, the EPA report was squashed by the Reagan administration, then trying to minimize damage due to pressure from veteran groups of GI’s exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Despite pressure from Congress, the EPA has never released it’s report. In 2011, a large fire in the Pinal Mts. burned part of the spray zone, creating new concern. Dioxin breaks down very slowly and the tiniest amounts are toxic. It could be in the water supply and many chaparral plants are long lived and it could be stored in plant tissue for decades until released by fire. In 1989 full barrels of the 1969 herbicide were found 120 miles northeast in a mine shaft near Alpine, Arizona when a worker who took part in this dumping came forward (Rio, 2011).

I would say that the study of manzanita in these mountains could present serious problems and would not be without dangers. To what extent has the spraying modified the landscape and the flora and fauna?

Brown, D.E., 1994. Biotic Communities Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico,
Zahner, R. & Morrow, K., 2005. Arizona Registry of Big Trees. Available at: http://www.arizonensis.org/bigtrees/arizona_champs.html [Accessed September 25, 2013].
Government Indian, 2011. GOVERNMENT INDIAN. Available at: http://www.governmentindian.com/ [Accessed September 19, 2013].
Morelock, B., 1994. Poisoned Lives. Available at: http://www.getipm.com/articles/poisonedlives.html [Accessed September 11, 2013].
Dept of Agriculture, 1970. Investigation of Spray Project Near Globe, Arizona,
McCray, R., 2009. Robert McCray: Pesticide Activist, Dioxin Research, Globe-Miami Cancer Registry.
Rio, C., 2011. EPA Study finds Agent Orange Dioxins in Pinal Mountains: Hazardous? - Mesa Public Policy | Examiner.com. Mesa Public Policy. Available at: http://www.examiner.com/article/epa-study-finds-agent-orange-dioxins-pinal-mountains-hazardous [Accessed September 13, 2013].