Santa Rosa Beach attorney Rusty Sanders is hoping to find a large law firm to take on a proposed federal lawsuit he wants to file on behalf of civilian workers involved with testing delivery systems for Agent Orange and other herbicides at Eglin Air Force Base during the Vietnam War. Many of the workers have suffered medical issues they believe are connected to Agent Orange.

EGLIN AFB — A local attorney has released a copy of a proposed class-action federal lawsuit prepared on behalf of civilian contractor personnel who worked on an Eglin Air Force Base test range where Agent Orange and other potent herbicides were sprayed from 1962 to 1970, in tests prior to their use to defoliate jungle areas during the Vietnam War.

The lawsuit was also prepared on behalf of residents and property owners near the test range, which the lawsuit contends were exposed to dangerous chemicals in the air and water resulting from the herbicide testing.

Broadly, the lawsuit contends the work of a contractor at the base, which involved testing airborne delivery systems for the powerful herbicide and exposed workers to it without protection, resulted in "physiological injury, systematic disease, genetic damage and death ..." to those workers. The lawsuit targets only the contractors who were involved in the herbicide testing, and not Eglin AFB nor the Air Force.

Santa Rosa Beach attorney Rusty Sanders said he released the 254-page document, not yet filed in federal court, in hopes of attracting a large law firm and its attendant resources to the case. Sanders is working with Victor Yannacone, an upstate New York attorney who got a $180 million settlement in 1984 for Vietnam veterans — but not civilians — exposed to Agent Orange.

Sanders said in an email accompanying the lawsuit that he and Yannacone "have the skills and knowledge to adequately represent these Eglin Air Force Base workers," but "lack the economic resources to file the action and see it through to a conclusion."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages for the contractor employees, covering both the current and future physical and economic consequences of their exposure to chemicals associated with the herbicide testing. Beyond that, the lawsuit asks that an array of companies named in the lawsuit be required to establish a trust fund to cover medical care costs for affected workers and their families, including grandchildren. The proposed lawsuit also seeks the creation of a trust fund for reimbursing federal and state government agencies for expenses associated with caring for the former contractor employees.

The herbicide testing took place on a one-square-mile plot of the Eglin reservation, designated Site C-52A, located north of the Choctaw Beach community. Now off-limits to the public, the area was sprayed repeatedly with Agent Orange and other herbicides as Vitro Services, a defense contractor later subsumed by BAE Systems PLC, tested delivery systems.

As aircraft flew overhead spraying Site C-52A, as many as two dozen Vitro Services workers would be on the ground, doing work including collecting cards that recorded spray patterns, directing aircraft as to when to start and stop spraying, and filming the tests. None of the workers wore protective clothing as they were being exposed to the herbicides.

In the years following their work with Agent Orange, many of the former Vitro Services workers noted that many of them were struggling with serious medical issues that they believe are related to their work at Site C-52A, from cancer to having traces of the herbicide remaining in their blood.

According to the lawsuit, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs has recognized some cancers and other diseases as being related to exposure to herbicides like Agent Orange, including Hodgkin's disease, Parkinson's disease and mesothelioma.

The lawsuit names BAE Systems PLC among a number of corporate defendants in the case. Tracing other corporate lineages, the lawsuit names German multinational pharmaceutical company Bayer AG as a defendant, based on its acquisition last year of Monsanto, which manufactured Agent Orange in the late 1960s.

Also named as defendants are Valero Energy Corporation, which the lawsuit identifies as a successor to herbicide manufacturer NOPOCO Chemical; the Dow Chemical Company, Occidental Petroleum, Michelin, Harcros Chemicals, Philips Electronics and Johnson Controls.

"We are not soliciting clients," Sanders insisted in the email, "we are looking for a law firm with sufficient concern for truth, justice and the public interest to bring this action to trial."