Agent Orange

Agent Orange Just saying the name Agent Orange gets the attention of every Vietnam veteran, and I dare say most of the Australian and American public, not to mention the Vietnamese. It has been argued about, written about, researched and debated, published in magazines and newspapers, talked about on radio and television. It was the subject of documentaries, legal battles, and in Australia a Royal Commission that lasted some two years and cost 3.8 million dollars. Agent Orange was the code name for a herbicide developed for the military, primarily for use in tropical climates. Although the genesis of the product goes back to the 1940s, serious testing for military applications did not begin until the early 1960s. The purpose of the product was to deny an enemy cover and concealment in dense terrain by defoliating trees and shrubbery where the enemy could hide.

The product “Agent Orange” (a code name for the orange band that was used to mark the drums it was stored in) was principally effective against broad-leaf foliage, such as the dense jungle-like terrain found in Southeast Asia. The product was tested in Vietnam in the early 1960s, and was brought into ever widening use during the height of the war in 1967-68, though its use was diminished and eventually discontinued in 1971. Agent Orange was a 50-50 mix of two chemicals, known conventionally as 2,4,D and 2,4,5,T. the combined product was mixed with kerosene or diesel fuel and dispersed by aircraft, vehicle, and hand spraying. An estimated 19 million gallons of Agent Orange were used in South Vietnam during the war. The earliest health concerns about Agent Orange were about the products contamination with TCDD, or dioxin. TCDD is one of a family of dioxins, some found in nature, and are cousins of dibenzofurans and PCBs.

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Dioxin is formed by burning chlorine-based chemical compounds with hydrocarbons. The major source of dioxin in the environment (95%) comes from incinerators burning chlorinated wastes. Dioxin pollution is also affiliated with paper mills, which use chlorine bleaching in their process and with the production of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastics. The TCDD that can be found in Agent Orange is thought to be harmful to man. In laboratory tests on animals, TCDD has caused a wide variety of diseases, many of them fatal.

TCDD is not found in nature, but rather is a man-made and is always an unwanted byproduct of the chemical process of manufacturing of certain herbicides, bactericides, wood preservatives, and other products. It is believed by many scientists to be the most toxic of all synthetic chemicals. It was first identified as a contaminant in 1957, but not recognized as a major public hazard until the mid 1970s. The Agent Orange used in Vietnam was later found to be extremely contaminated with TCDD. The Agent Orange in Vietnam was contaminated in amounts from 0.05 to almost 50 parts per million, with the most common contamination being 2 parts per million (ppm).

This contamination resulted in an estimated 368 pounds of dioxin sprayed over Vietnam in a six-year period.

Agent orange

Agent Orange
Agent Orange is a plant killer, which was used during the Vietnam War to destroy the massive amount of trees (Nguyen, 1). The destruction that occurred, however, is far more extensive than once believed. Complications in health occur much more frequently to those exposed to the chemical than those who managed to avoid contact (Nguyen, 2). The use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War affected the American soldiers health and genetics.

Agent Orange is a 50:50 mixture of two major compounds, 2,4-dichlorophenoxy acetic acid and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxy acetic acid (Nguyen, 2). This defoliant also contains dioxin, which is one of the most lethal compounds known to man (Nguyen, 2). Ironically, the dioxin, which makes Agent Orange lethal to humans, isnt intended to kill plants at all (Vancil, 1). It is extremely hard to prove, however, that dioxin is responsible for the countless illnesses acquired by many Vietnam veterans because each individual has their own tolerance to dioxin (Vancil, 1).
Many soldiers in the Vietnam War encountered Agent Orange repeatedly. Their lives revolved around the 55-gallon drums, which once were filled with an extremely harmful herbicide. Unaware of the possible consequences, many soldiers built showers and hibachis out of these discarded drums (Doyle, 139). They also used the barren drums to store potatoes and watermelons (Doyle, 139). One man described to his wife how they would bathe and swim in water contaminated with Agent Orange because their superior said it was safe (Brooks, 2). After the LZ was sprayed, we walked around the perimeter, strung barbed wire all around it, and this stuff Agent Orange was blowing all over the place. Most of us drank out of bomb craters, showered in bomb cratersand all that water was polluted with Agent Orange, a First Air Cavalry veteran recalled (Doyle, 139). Agent Orange played a very key role in the lives of the American soldier.

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Complications in veterans health occur much more frequently to those exposed to Agent Orange than those who managed to avoid contact. A platoon in Vietnam was heavily sprayed by the herbicide. Five of the 20 members suffered from dioxin poisoning which is 500% above the national average for this disorder (Vancil, 1). In 1978, 41 Vietnam veterans were suffering from the exposure of Agent Orange. They linked this illness to Agent Orange because they all had very similar backgrounds with the herbicide. The effects brought about from this exposure were diminished sex drives, psychological problems, numbness, and skin rashes (Buckingham, 7). Veterans also have a lower sperm count (Nguyen, 3) and have a 50% higher rate of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma than veterans that didnt serve in Vietnam (Nguyen, 2). A study of 1,200 Ranch Hand veterans, whom have had the most exposure to herbicides, has concluded there is evidence which links Agent Orange with soft-tissue sarcoma, Hodgkins disease, and chloracne (Buckingham, 8). The effects of Agent Orange have done a great deal of damage to the health of the American soldier.

The children of the veterans show greater signs of disability however. The veterans offspring are more prone to birth defects pertaining to the skin, nervous system, heart, kidneys, and oral clefts (Nguyen, 3). It is not uncommon for infants to be born without legs, arms, shoulders, and even ears in Vietnam (Nguyen, 3). My hands hurt. The skin falls off when its touched, says Thoa, a 13 year old who suffers from a war, which ended almost 20 years before her birth (Agent Orange blamed for child defects, 1). Thoa is just one of the 300,000 children worldwide who are victims of chemical warfare (Agent Orange blamed for child defects, 1). Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is four times more likely in children born of Vietnam veterans (Nguyen, 3). Tu Du Obstetrical and Gynecological Hospital has been the site of at least five Siamese twins born every year since 1975 (Nguyen, 3). These facts point very much toward Agent Orange as the cause for such illnesses.

The use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War provided an advantage to the militaristic point of view. After all is said and done, however, it becomes clear that the use of Agent Orange merely to defoliate the jungles of Southern Vietnam caused more harm than good fortune. It has affected the American soldier and people throughout the world very greatly. Hundreds of thousands of lives have changed dramatically due to the use of Agent Orange.
Works Cited
Agent Orange blamed for child defects.

Brooks, Clark. Fatal flaws; How the military misled Vietnam
Veterans and their families about the health risks of Agent Orange.
Buckingham, William A. Operation Ranch Hand.
Doyle, Edward. and Maitland, Terrence. The Vietnam Experience:
The Aftermath. Boston: Boston Publishing Company. 1985.

Nguyen, Duc. Agent Orange.
Vancil, L. Agent Orange.


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