Agent Orange

February 11, 2011 by staff 

Agent Orange, Agent Orange is the code name for an herbicide and defoliant used by U.S. forces as part of its chemical warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971.

A 50:50 mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, it was built for the U.S. Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto and Dow Chemical Corporation. 2,4,5-T used to produce Agent Orange was later found to be contaminated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo, compound extremely toxic dioxins. It was named after the color of the orange stripe of 55 U.S. gallons (200 L) drums in which it was shipped, and was by far the most widely used of the so-called “Rainbow Herbicides.”

During the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. army sprayed USD 20,000,000 gallons (80,000,000 L) of herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam, Laos and eastern parts of Cambodia, as part of Operation Ranch Hand. The program’s goal was to defoliate forests and rural lands, depriving the guerrillas of cover, another goal was to get the forced urbanization project, destroying the ability of farmers to take charge in campaigns, and forcing them to flee to the United States dominates the towns, depriving the guerrillas of their support base in rural development and food supply.

Air Force documents show that at least 6,542 spray missions took place during Operation Ranch Hand. In 1971, 12 percent of the total area of South Vietnam were sprayed chemical defoliants, which were often applied at rates that were 13 times higher than the legal limit USDA. In South Vietnam alone, an estimated 10 million hectares of farmland were eventually destroyed. In some areas TCDD concentrations in soil and water have been hundreds of times higher than levels considered “safe” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Overall, more than 20% of the forests of South Vietnam were sprayed at least once during a period of nine years.

The United States has begun to target food crops in October 1962, mainly using Agent Blue. In 1965, 42 percent of all herbicide spraying was devoted to food crops. Rates of rural migration to cities has increased dramatically in South Vietnam, as peasants escaped destruction and famine in the countryside, taking refuge in towns in the United States dominant. The urban population in South Vietnam has more than tripled from 2.8 million in 1958 to 8 million in 1971. The rapid movement of people led to a rapid and uncontrolled urbanization; estimated 1.5 million people living in slums Saigon, while many South Vietnamese elites and the staff of the United States lived in luxury.

According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to herbicides, causing 400,000 people are killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.

Chemical, Agent Orange is a mixture of about 1:1 of two phenoxy herbicides – 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2.4, 5-T) – in ISO-octyl ester form.

Many studies have examined the health effects related to Agent Orange, its component compounds, and byproducts of manufacturing.

Before the controversy surrounding Agent Orange, there were already a lot of scientific evidence linking the 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D to serious adverse health and environmental damage. But in 1969 it was publicly revealed that 2,4,5-T was contaminated with dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo (TCDD) and TCDD was responsible for many Health previously unexplained adverse effects that correlate with Agent Orange exposure. TCDD has been described as “perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man.” Internal memos show that Monsanto Corporation (a manufacturer of 2,4,5-T) has informed the government of the United States in 1952 as 2,4,5-T was contaminated with a toxic chemical.

In 1979, the Yale biologist Arthur Galston, who specializes in research of herbicides, has issued a notice of what was then known about the toxicity of TCDD. Even “vanishingly small” amounts of dioxin in food has caused adverse health effects when tested on animals. Since then, TCDD has been studied thoroughly. He has been associated with increased tumor in each animal experiments reported in the literature. The National Toxicology Program has classified TCDD as “known human carcinogen, frequently associated with soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

While the two herbicides that make up Agent Orange 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T are toxic over a short period scale of days or weeks, they quickly deteriorate. However, a 1969 report written by Diane K. Courtney and others have found that 2,4,5-T could cause birth defects and stillbirths in mice. Several studies have shown an increased rate of cancer mortality for workers exposed to 2,4,5-T. In this study, Hamburg, Germany, the risk of cancer mortality increased 170% after working for 10 years for the production of 2,4,5-T section of a manufacturing plant in Hamburg. Three studies have suggested that prior exposure to Agent Orange poses an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia in children of Vietnam veterans.

In 1991, Congress commissioned the Institute of Medicine to review the scientific literature on Agent Orange and other herbicides used in Vietnam, including their active ingredients and contaminants dioxin. IOM has found an association found between dioxin exposure and diabetes.

In 1943, plant biologist Arthur Galston began studying the compound triiodobenzoic acid as a plant growth hormone, in an attempt to adapt soybeans to a short growing season. Galston noted that excessive use of the compound caused catastrophic defoliation – a finding later used by his colleague, Ian Sussex to develop the family of herbicides used in Operation Ranch Hand. Galston was particularly concerned about the side effects of the compound to humans and the environment.

In 1943, the U.S. Department of the Army contract for the University of Chicago to study the effects of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T on cereals (including rice) and crop broadleaf. From these studies emerged the idea of using aerial applications of herbicides to destroy enemy crops to disrupt food supplies. In early 1945, the U.S. military has conducted tests of various 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T mixtures in Bushnell Field Air Force in Florida, which is now considered a Formerly used the site of Defense (FUDS).

The Vietnam Red Cross reports that indicate that 3 million Vietnamese were affected by Agent Orange, which at least 150,000 children born with birth defects. According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange, where 400,000 people are killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.

Children in areas where Agent Orange was used have been affected and have multiple health problems, including cleft palate, mental retardation, hernias, and extra fingers and toes. In the 1970s, high levels of dioxins were found in the breast milk of women in South Vietnam, and in the blood of American soldiers who served in Vietnam. The areas most affected are the mountainous region along the Truong Son (Long Mountain) and the border between Vietnam and Cambodia. The residents affected live in sub-standard conditions with many genetic diseases.

About 28 of the former U.S. military bases in Vietnam, where herbicides were stored and loaded onto planes still have high levels of dioxins in soil constitutes a health threat to nearby communities. These “hot spots” have dioxin contamination is up to 350 times higher than international recommendations for action. Soil and sediment contamination continue to affect the citizens of Vietnam, the poisoning of their food chain and diseases causing severe skin diseases and a variety of cancers of the lung, larynx and prostate. [via online sources]

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