U.S. begins testing for Agent Orange at South Korean base

United States and South Korean officials began collecting groundwater samples this week near a U.S. army base in the south of Korea to test for the toxic defoliant Agent Orange.

The two countries agreed on Thursday to a joint probe into the alleged burial of the highly toxic substance by American troops approximately three decades ago, the Korea Herald reports. The investigation started as a result of former U.S. soldiers telling a television station that they had buried large amounts of Agent Orange in 1978 outside a heliport inside Camp Carroll in Chilgok, South Korea.

Chilgok is 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, South Korea. Samples were taken at 10 locations around Camp Carroll by experts from the Environmental Ministry and the National Institute of Environmental Research with U.S. officials present.

“The groundwater samples will be analyzed by different environmental labs such as the NIER,” a ministry official said, according to the Korea Herald. “It will take more than two weeks for the results to come out.”

Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, the lead investigator into the allegations and commander of the 8th U.S. Army, said on Thursday that ground-penetrating radar devices will be used to identify if there are substances buried at the installation.

“If we get evidence that there is a risk to health, we are going to fix it,” Johnson told a local radio station, according to the Korea Herald.

A 1992 study found a “large amount” of pesticides, solvents and herbicides had been buried at Camp Carroll in 1978, but were removed and taken to an unknown site over the following two years. “Trace amounts” of dioxin were found in a 2004 test on the site, which does not directly indicate Agent Orange was buried there.

Documents have since confirmed that the United States had conducted testing of Agent Orange in five other countries, including South Korea, Cambodia, Canada, Laos and Thailand in the 1960s, the Korea Herald reports. Agent Orange was also tested by the U.S. in India and Puerto Rico and 2.22 million gallons of the compound were allegedly burned in the ocean in 1977.