U.S. government sprayed the dioxin-containing herbicide silvex on the reservation in the 1960s and ’70s; similar to Agent Orange
Tanya H. Lee • March 1, 2017
There are places near the Gila River where the cottonwoods—otherwise pervasive in Southwest riverbeds—do not grow. Some members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe believe that is just one legacy of the dioxin-containing herbicide silvex, which was sprayed on the reservation in the 1960s and ’70s—at the same time that Agent Orange, a similar compound, was being dumped onto Vietnam’s countryside in an act of war.
The cottonwoods are not the only casualties of silvex. Entire families of San Carlos Apache basket weavers have passed on, victims of cancer. Those cancers, some tribal members believe, were caused by silvex when the basket weavers absorbed the noxious chemicals from the plants they stripped of bark with their teeth. Moreover, doctors and nurses who worked in the emergency room at the San Carlos hospital seem to have died of cancers at an unusually high rate, according to Charles Vargas, director of the Sovereign Apache Nation Chamber of Commerce.
Now, tribal members are seeking answers. With soil and water testing just beginning, the evidence is circumstantial. But those who see health impacts on San Carlos similar to those suffered by people exposed to Agent Orange are determined to prove the connection.