SYDNEY, N.S. -- An herbicide spraying battle opening today in Nova Scotia Supreme Court packs implications for the future of Canada's vital forest industry and compensation for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
A network of 15 Cape Breton community groups, after years of government wrangling, are taking on the powerful Nova Scotia Forest Industries over spraying of the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T which contain the deadly chemical dioxin.
'We had no choice if we wanted to keep our homes and lifestyles,' says Paul Cumming, one of the highly-organized anti-spray forces. 'I can't sit back and watch television when I think my second child might have birth defects because of the spray.'
The chemical 2,4,5-T was used in Agent Orange, the defoliant used to strip forests in Vietnam in the 1960s. War veterans blame Agent Orange for causing birth defects in their children, skin diseases and cancer.
The chemical companies and the forest industry call the term Agent Orange inflamatory. One forestry official said comparing their spray to what was dropped on Vietnam is like comparing bathwater and bleach.
The herbicides were approved by federal regulatory agencies. The companies have repeatedly argued that the chemicals when used properly are the safest and most effective way to kill the spruce bloodworm, which is destroying valuable softwood forests.
'The term Agent Organge is accurate,' argues Cumming. 'It's a 1-to-1 mix of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, essentially the same chemicals used in Vietnam.'
Journalists from Sweden, where the forst companies' head offices are located, Germany, Great Britain, the United States, Switzerland and from across Canada are in Sydney to report on the environmental test case.
The trial is expected to last from four to six weeks.
The Nova Scotia government in the 1970s, led by Premier Gerald Regan, banned spraying and infuriated pulp companies, who charged it would mean the end of their industry.
In 1981, the government of Premier John Buchanan gave permission to spray the herbicide then reversed itself after anti-spray groups exerted political pressure.
'What the provincial government accomplished when they suspended the aerial spray program was to get everyone mad at them,' said Cumming. 'Up until that point, they had people against the spray mad. After they suspended the aerial spraying, the pulp and chemical companies were mad at them too.'
Trying for a compromise, the provincial government allowed spraying from trucks instead of helicopters. The anti-spray groups, which have to date incurred $70,000 in legal fees, sought and received an injunction from Nova Scotia Supreme Court last fall, halting use of the herbicide until the case was heard in trial.