The Boy Scouts of America still plans to hold its national jamboree next year at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, despite recent tests showing toxic dioxin-contaminated soil at the Army base where 31,000 scouts and leaders camped at the 1981 jamboree, top Scouting officials said yesterday.
Ralph W. Jordan, director of next summer's jamboree, said he was "satisfied that the contamination was not great enough to pose a health hazard" now or three years ago when Boy Scouts from across the United States and 28 nations camped at the 76,000-acre Army base 90 miles south of Washington.
But Jordan added that national Boy Scout leaders have asked a Vienna engineering firm to begin testing tomorrow to determine the extent of the dioxin contamination, which was centered in and around a small shed where the Army stored liquid herbicides until 1978.
During the 1981 jamboree, several scout leaders slept 10 to 15 feet from the shed, while scouts nearest to the shed were from Texas and other southwestern states and camped about 150 feet from the small building, according to Boy Scout and Army officials. The jamboree drew hundreds of scouts from the Washington area, but officials were uncertain yesterday where those scouts camped.
The Army, which as early as January 1983 had targeted the storage shed as a possible source of contamination, notified several Virginia and federal agencies earlier this month of soil tests showing high dioxin levels at the shed. The Boy Scouts were notified of the test results last Wednesday; the results were officially announced two days later.
Assistant Army Secretary P. Pat Hillier said yesterday that the military will "move agressively" to dismantle the storage shed and clean the surrounding area of remaining dioxin prior to the arrival in July of 28,700 young people and adults attending the 11th National Boy Scout Jamboree, held every four years at sites around the country.
The Army, which last week asked the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to analyze its dioxin test data, also is attempting to reach Army personnel who may have come into contact with the herbicide.
"Our presence at Fort A.P. Hill is contingent on the site being safe for the scouts," Jordan said in an interview from national Boy Scout headquarters in Irving, Tex., where he and other scouting officials held a news conference yesterday to reaffirm their plans to stage the event again in central Virginia.
But the cleanup and further soil testing planned by the Army and Boy Scouts came amid complaints by one poison expert that both groups were doing too little to determine whether scouts had been contaminated by the dioxin.
Dioxin is a byproduct in the manufacture of the herbicide 2,4,5-T. Some experts have linked the extremely toxic substance to certain cancers, genetic abnormalities and other disorders.
Dr. Barry H. Rumack, a pesticide expert in Denver who was notified of the A.P. Hill dioxin tests last week, urged those who attended the 1981 jamboree to see physicians as soon as possible.
The Army and Boy Scouts "would like this issue to go away," said Rumack. "Their way to make it go away is to say there's no problem."
In soil samples taken earlier this year, the Army found 228 parts per billion (ppb) of toxic dioxin beneath the storage shed and 3 ppb about 150 feet downhill from the shed. Rumack contended that the maximum safe level of dioxin is generally accepted to be 1 ppb.
However, Army spokesman Maj. Jay Craig said that no time during the 10-day jamboree in 1981 were "Boy Scouts or leaders exposed to potentially hazardous levels of dioxin." The Army's Hillier added that the dioxin would have posed a danger only if a scout "ingested the soil."
"You almost had to be eating it" to be in danger, Hillier said.
Craig added that while the Army was not advising scouts to see a physician, "we think that if they want peace of mind they should."
Several Army spokesmen said they have received telephone calls from parents around the country who were anxious about the possibility that family members who attended the 1981 jamboree may have been contaminated by dioxin.
One scout leader in Pennsylvania called an Army spokesman in Virginia yesterday to say he was about to attend an Eagle Scout ceremony attended by nine scouts who were at the 1981 jamboree. The leader wanted to know what he could tell the scouts and their parents to calm their fears, the Army official said.
A special information packet concerning the dioxin contamination at Fort A.P. Hill may be obtained by calling the Army at (202) 697-2564 or (202) 697-7589, or by writing to the Department of the Army, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, Media Relations Division, Room 2E641, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 20310-1507