Editorial The 'saving' poison

The country was awash with snickers when Goldwater senior once suggested a little nuclear clout to defoliate those Cong-stuffed Vietnam jungles.

Expose the enemy. Save our boys, Wrap up the misery in a modern-style military hurry.

The Presidential adventurer from Phoenix quickly said we all misinterpreted him, abused his serious motives.

Perhaps yesterday's defoliators should have suggested 2,4,5-T, a potent herbicidal (plant destroying) chemical. Since 1961, American forces have dumped it on five million acres of Vietnam. That's about 12 per cent of the country-property the size of Massachusetts. The chemical-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid-kills jungle, contaminates water, lingers poisonously in the earth, and, incidentally, threatens to cause abnormalities that could eclipse the cruelties of Thalidomide. Thomas Whiteside dramatically documents the case of 2,4,5-T in the February 7, New Yorker.

Concerned scientists protested to the Johnson administration that the "large-scale use of anticrop and 'non-lethal antipersonal chemical weapons in Vietnam" constituted "a dangerous precedent" in chemical and biological warfare. They asked the President to stop it. U.S. officials preferred to call the herbicide spraying a "food-denial program." Starve out the enemy-regardless of the effect on crops (or innocent people) in a part of the world already in the midst, as Whiteside notes of "malrumrition, the disease, the trauma, the poverty, and the general shambles of war."

Perhaps this new information won't shock anybody. After all, we've got a record of destroying things to "save" them, in Vietnam.

But there's another side-fuel in the 2.4.5-T case for a whopping confidence crisis in Washington.

Whiteside documents a shocking chronology. It includes private (but not Pentagon or Food and Drug Administration) testing of the chemical. He cities overlong suppression of crucial reports and in their wake othcial hedging. Manufacturers of the chemical have tried to flaunt the portents of misery. They say testing may have been too narrow or chemical used in tests impure. They dodge horrible implications. Whiteside quotes "one eminent biologist" who has studied the laboratory test data: "if the effects on experimental animals are applicable to people it's a very sad and serious situation."

If Thalidomide, and more recently cyclamates, didn't make the case for tough regulation of the substances moving into the public marketplace, perhaps the 2,4,5-T situation will. This one is a travesty of the highest order yet in terms of reckless, covert, conduct by officialdom and private business. Whiteside, with understatement and meticulous detail, blows a shrill whistle on governmental misfeasance, perhaps malfeasance.

The 2,4,5-T case is in Nixon's lap now. And the use of the stuff continues, as you read this. It's time a lot more of us shouted for policing of chemicals, before any more Massachusetts-size spaces in the world are "saved."