Agent Orange

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U.S. Army Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese agricultural land.

Agent Orange is a herbicide and defoliant. It is widely know for its use by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand,[1] during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971.[2] It was a mixture of equal parts of two herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D.

The extensive environmental damage that resulted from the herbicide prompted the United Nations to ratify Resolution 31/72 and ratify the Environmental Modification Convention.

The convention prohibits the military or other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects. Many states do not regard this as a complete ban on the use of herbicides and defoliants in warfare but it does require case-by-case consideration.[3][4]

In the Conference on Disarmament, Article 2(4) Protocol III of the weaponry convention has "The Jungle Exception", which prohibits states from attacking forests or jungles "except if such natural elements are used to cover, conceal or camouflage combatants or military objectives or are military objectives themselves". This exception clearly voids any protection of any military and civilian personnel from a napalm attack or something like Agent Orange and is clear that it was designed to cover situations like U.S. tactics in Vietnam. This clause has yet to be revised.[5]

Following the conclusion of the War in Southeast Asia, contention over the Agent Orange topic has not subsided. Two primary threads of the controversy now relate to toxicity of the agent or potential long-term health effects and to additional potential exposure locations outside of the war zone.

Chemical Composition[edit]


The main ingredients of Agent Orange composes of an equal mixture of two phenoxyl herbicides2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) – in iso-octyl ester form, which contained traces of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD).[6]

The dioxin TCDD is significant contaminant of Agent Orange. TCDD is the most toxic of the dioxins, and is classified as a human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Agent Orange dries quickly after spraying and breaks down within hours to days when exposed to sunlight (if not bound chemically to a biological surface such as soil, leaves and grass) and is no longer harmful.[7]


Dioxin is fat soluble and enters the body through physical contact, inhalation, or ingestion of contaminated food or water.[8] Since it is fat soluble, the toxin quickly accumulates in organisms in the food chain. When a pregnant mother is exposed to dioxin, the teratogen can enter the embryo via the bloodstream. Dioxin is taken up by the body by attaching to a protein called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a transcription factor. The inactive AhR protein is located in the cytoplasm of most cells, and contains a receptor that is capable of interacting with several kinds of ligands. When dioxin binds to AhR, the protein moves to the nucleus, where it influences gene expression. In normal development gene expression timing and levels are tightly controlled; changing those things can result in birth defects.[9][10]

In the years following the Vietnam War reports, of high rates of miscarriages, premature births, congenital birth defects, and infant mortality began to surface from regions in Vietnam where Agent Orange was used. In 1984, the CDC showed that the offspring of male veterans exposed to herbicides during the Vietnam War had increased rates of neural tube defects, especially spina bifida, and to a lesser degree anencephaly. The study suggested that the dioxin present in Agent Orange caused neural tube defects in offspring by either mutating a gene or chromosome on the sperm before fertilization, or the dioxin was transmitted with the sperm.[11][12]

In 1988, the CDC performed a congress-mandated study on the health of Vietnam War veterans titled the “Vietnam Experience Study.” The third part of this study compared two cohorts of veterans, those who had served in Vietnam, and those who had served in the armed services during the Vietnam War, but not in Vietnam. The structure of the study was similar to the 1984 study; those in both groups were interviewed and their medical records were examined. The results of the study showed a higher incidence of spina bifida, anencephaly, and hydrocephalus in children of Vietnam veterans, especially those whose parents had been involved in what were called defoliating missions using Agent Orange.[13][14]


Several herbicides were discovered as part of efforts by the USA and the British to develop herbicidal weapons for use during WWII. These included 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), 2,4,5-T (coded LN-14, and also known as trioxone), MCPA (2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid, 1414B and 1414A, recoded LN-8 and LN-32), and isopropyl phenylcarbamate (1313, recoded LN-33).[15]

In the 1940s, Arthur W. Galston, a graduate student in botany at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, discovered that a particular synthetic chemical, if applied in low enough concentrations, could speed up the flowering of plants. Conversely, high concentrations caused the leaves of plants to fall off, killing the plants.[16] In 1943, the U.S. Department of the Army contracted the University of Chicago to study the effects of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T on cereal grains (including rice) and broadleaf crops. From these studies arose the concept of using aerial applications of herbicides to destroy enemy crops to disrupt their food supply. In early 1945, the U.S. Army ran tests of various 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T mixtures at the Bushnell Army Airfield in Florida, which is now listed as a Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS). As a result, the U.S. began a full-scale production of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and would have used it against Japan in 1946 during Operation Downfall if the war had continued.[17][18] Agent Orange was one of 9 herbicides in the 'Rainbow Herbicides.


By the end of the war, the relationship between the two countries was well established. In the years following the war, the U.S. tested 1100 compounds, and field trials of the more promising ones were done at British stations in India and Australia, to establish their effects in tropical conditions, as well as at the U.S.'s testing ground in Florida.[15]

Between 1950 and 1952, trials were conducted in Tanganyika, at Kikore and Stunyansa, in order to test arboricides and defoliants under tropical conditions. The chemicals involved were 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, and endothall (3,6-endoxohexahydrophthalic acid). During 1952-1953, the unit supervised the aerial spraying of 2,4,5-T over the Waturi peninsula in Kenya to assess the value of defoliants in the eradication of tsetse fly.[15]

British General Sir Gerald Templer authorized the use of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D (Agent Orange) throughout the Malayan Emergency to destroy bushes, trees, and vegetation in order to deprive the insurgents of cover. Later, the Americans used Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.


Early Usage[edit]

During the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), Britain was the first nation to employ the use of herbicides and defoliants to destroy bushes, trees, and vegetation to deprive insurgents of cover and targeting food crops as part of a starvation campaign in the early 1950s.[19] A detailed account of how the British experimented with the spraying of herbicides was written by two scientists, E.K. Woodford of Agricultural Research Council's Unit of Experimental Agronomy and H.G.H. Kearns of the University of Bristol.[15]

After the Malayan conflict ended in 1960, the U.S. considered the British precedent in deciding that the use of defoliants was a legal tactic of warfare. Secretary of State Dean Rusk advised President John F. Kennedy that the British had established a precedent for warfare with herbicides in Malaya.[6]

Usage during the Vietnam War[edit]

Overall, the United States deployed numerous canisters of Agent Orange in Vietnam from 1961 to 1971.


A nation at war, the United States government compelled a number of companies to produce Agent Orange under the Defense Production Act. Companies supplying Agent Orange to the government included The Dow Chemical Company, Monsanto Company, Hercules Inc., Diamond Shamrock, Uniroyal Inc., Thompson Chemical, and T-H Agriculture and Nutrition Company.[20]

Agent Orange was only manufactured for delivery to the U.S. government for military use. The product was never manufactured or sold for commercial purposes.


The United States Air Force selected the Fairchild C-123 Provider to be the aircraft for deployment, replacing the C-47 aircraft. This was preferred due to its excellent maneuverability and that its high mounted wings allowed convenient positioning of wing spray booms. These aircraft had receieved numerous modifications to enable the holding of tanks and spray mechanisms, most often operated by a flight mechanic.[21] Flights occurred weekly, dumping hundreds of liters daily.

By the end of Agent Orange's use in May 1970, and herbicides overall, 19 million gallons (71 million liters) of herbicides had been sprayed over Vietnam.[22] All of the operations were conducted out of Bien Hoaw Airbase as part of Operation Ranch Hand, although some oeprations were carried out of Ton San Nhat and Da Nang. Flights ran intensely during the summer where numerous flights occurred weekly, while flights subsided during the winter months.[23]


Health effects[edit]

People in Vietnam[edit]

The government of Vietnam says that 4 million of its citizens were exposed to Agent Orange, and as many as 3 million have suffered illnesses because of it; these figures include the children of people who were exposed.[24] The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems due to contaminated Agent Orange.[25] The United States government has challenged these figures as being unreliable.[26]

Dr Nguyen Viet Nhan, a doctor in Vietnam, children in the areas where Agent Orange was used have been affected and have multiple health problems, including cleft palate, mental disabilities, hernias, and extra fingers and toes.[27][28] In the 1970s, high levels of dioxin were found in the breast milk of South Vietnamese women, and in the blood of U.S. military personnel who had served in Vietnam.[29] The most affected zones are the mountainous area along Truong Son (Long Mountains) and the border between Vietnam and Cambodia. The affected residents are living in substandard conditions with many genetic diseases.[30][31]

The scientific data supporting a causal link between Agent Orange/dioxin exposure and birth defects is controversial and weak, in part due to poor methodology. In 2006 Anh Duc Ngo and colleagues, of the University of Texas Health Science Center, published a meta-analysis that exposed a large amount of heterogeneity (different findings) between studies, a finding consistent with a lack of consensus on the issue.[32] Despite this, statistical analysis of the studies they examined resulted in data that the increase in birth defects/relative risk(RR) from exposure to agent orange/dioxin "appears" to be on the order of 3 in Vietnamese funded studies but 1.29 in the rest of the world. With a casual relationship near the threshold of statistical significance in still-births, cleft palate, and neural tube defects, with spina bifida being the most statistically significant defect.[33] The large discrepancy in RR between Vietnamese studies and those in the rest of the world has been ascribed to bias in the Vietnamese studies.[32]

28 of the former U.S. military bases in Vietnam where the herbicides were stored and loaded onto airplanes may still have high level of dioxins in the soil, posing a health threat to the surrounding communities. Extensive testing for dioxin contamination has been conducted at the former U.S. airbases in Da Nang, Phu Cat and Bien Hoa. Some of the soil and sediment on the bases have extremely high levels of dioxin requiring remediation. The Da Nang Airbase has dioxin contamination up to 350 times higher than international recommendations for action.[34][35] The contaminated soil and sediment continue to affect the citizens of Vietnam, poisoning their food chain and causing illnesses, serious skin diseases and a variety of cancers in the lungs, larynx, and prostate.[27]

U.S. veterans[edit]

Studies have shown that veterans have increased rates of cancer, and nerve, digestive, skin, and respiratory disorders. the Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that in particular, there are higher rates of acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, throat cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, Ischemic heart disease, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer.[36][37] With the exception of liver cancer, these are the same conditions the U.S. Veterans Administration has determined may be associated with exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, and are on the list of conditions eligible for compensation and treatment.[38][37]

Military personnel who loaded Agent Orange onto airplanes and helicopters used in Ranch Hand sustained some of the heaviest exposures. Members of the Army Chemical Corps, who stored and mixed herbicides and defoliated the perimeters of military bases, and mechanics who worked on the helicopters and planes are also thought to have had some of the heaviest exposures. However, this same group of individuals has not shown remarkably higher incidences of the associated diseases, leading to disagreement within certain circles of just how much effect the defoliants actually have on the health of those exposed. Others with potentially heavy exposures included members of U.S. Army Special Forces units who defoliated remote campsites, and members of U.S. Navy river units who cleared base perimeters.[39] Military members who served on Okinawa also claim to have been exposed to the chemical but there is no verifiable evidence to corroborate these claims.[40]

More recent research established that veterans exposed to Agent Orange suffer more than twice the rate of highly aggressive prostate cancer [41] Additionally, recent reports from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences show that Agent Orange exposure also doubles the risk of invasive skin cancers.[42]

While in Vietnam, the veterans were told not to worry, and were persuaded the chemical was harmless.[43] After returning home, Vietnam veterans began to suspect their ill health or the instances of their wives having miscarriages or children born with birth defects might be related to Agent Orange and the other toxic herbicides to which they had been exposed in Vietnam. Veterans began to file claims in 1977 to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability payments for health care for conditions they believed were associated with exposure to Agent Orange, or more specifically, dioxin, but their claims were denied unless they could prove the condition began when they were in the service or within one year of their discharge.

By April 1993, the Department of Veterans Affairs had compensated only 486 victims, although it had received disability claims from 39,419 soldiers who had been exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.[44]

Ecological effects[edit]

Mangrove forests, like the top one east of Saigon, were often destroyed by herbicides. it may have caused health problems in soldiers and civilians.

About 17.8 percent—3,100,000 hectares (12,000 sq mi)—of the total forested area of Vietnam was sprayed during the war, which disrupted the ecological equilibrium. The persistent nature of dioxins, erosion caused by loss of tree cover and loss of seedling forest stock meant that reforestation was difficult (or impossible) in many areas.[45] Many defoliated forest areas were quickly invaded by aggressive pioneer species (such as bamboo and cogon grass), making forest regeneration difficult and unlikely. Animal-species diversity was also impacted; in one study a Harvard biologist found 24 species of birds and five species of mammals in a sprayed forest, while in two adjacent sections of unsprayed forest there were 145 and 170 species of birds and 30 and 55 species of mammals.[46]

Dioxins from Agent Orange have persisted in the Vietnamese environment since the war, settling in the soil and sediment and entering the food chain through animals and fish which feed in the contaminated areas. The movement of dioxins through the food web has resulted in bioconcentration and biomagnification.[47] The areas most heavily contaminated with dioxins are former U.S. air bases.[48]

Sociopolitical effects[edit]

The RAND Corporation's Memorandum 5446-ISA/ARPA states: "the fact that the VC obtain most of their food from the neutral rural population dictates the destruction of civilian crops ... if they (the VC) are to be hampered by the crop destruction program, it will be necessary to destroy large portions of the rural economy – probably 50% or more".[49]

Rural-to-urban migration rates dramatically increased in South Vietnam, as peasants escaped the war in the countryside by fleeing to the cities. The urban population in South Vietnam nearly tripled, growing from 2.8 million people in 1958 to 8 million by 1971. The rapid flow of people led to a fast-paced and uncontrolled urbanization; an estimated 1.5 million people were living in Saigon slums.[50]

Legal and diplomatic proceedings[edit]

U.S. veterans class action lawsuit against manufacturers[edit]

Since at least 1978, several lawsuits have been filed against the companies which produced Agent Orange, among them Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and Diamond Shamrock.[51]:6

Attorney Hy Mayerson was an early pioneer in Agent Orange litigation, working with environmental attorney Victor Yannacone in 1980 on the first class-action suits against wartime manufacturers of Agent Orange. In meeting Dr. Ronald A. Codario, one of the first civilian doctors to see afflicted patients, Mayerson, so impressed by the fact a physician would show so much interest in a Vietnam veteran, forwarded more than a thousand pages of information on Agent Orange and the effects of dioxin on animals and humans to Codario's office the day after he was first contacted by the doctor.[52] The corporate defendants sought to escape culpability by blaming everything on the U.S. government.[53]

Mayerson, with Sgt. Charles E. Hartz as their principal client, filed the first US Agent Orange class-action lawsuit, in Pennsylvania in 1980, for the injuries military personnel in Vietnam suffered through exposure to toxic dioxins in the defoliant.[54] Attorney Mayerson co-wrote the brief that certified the Agent Orange Product Liability action as a class action, the largest ever filed as of its filing.[55] Hartz's deposition was one of the first ever taken in America, and the first for an Agent Orange trial, for the purpose of preserving testimony at trial, as it was understood that Hartz would not live to see the trial because of a brain tumor that began to develop while he was a member of Tiger Force, Special Forces, and LRRPs in Vietnam.[56][57] The firm also located and supplied critical research to the Veterans' lead expert, Dr. Codario, including about 100 articles from toxicology journals dating back more than a decade, as well as data about where herbicides had been sprayed, what the effects of dioxin had been on animals and humans, and every accident in factories where herbicides were produced or dioxin was a contaminant of some chemical reaction.[52]

The chemical companies involved denied that there was a link between Agent Orange and the veterans' medical problems. However, on May 7, 1984, seven chemical companies settled the class-action suit out of court just hours before jury selection was to begin. The companies agreed to pay $180 million as compensation if the veterans dropped all claims against them.[58] Slightly over 45% of the sum was ordered to be paid by Monsanto alone.[59] Many veterans who were victims of Agent Orange exposure were outraged the case had been settled instead of going to court, and felt they had been betrayed by the lawyers. "Fairness Hearings" were held in five major American cities, where veterans and their families discussed their reactions to the settlement, and condemned the actions of the lawyers and courts, demanding the case be heard before a jury of their peers. Federal Judge Julius Weinstein refused the appeals, claiming the settlement was "fair and just". By 1989, the veterans' fears were confirmed when it was decided how the money from the settlement would be paid out. A totally disabled Vietnam veteran would receive a maximum of $12,000 spread out over the course of 10 years. Furthermore, by accepting the settlement payments, disabled veterans would become ineligible for many state benefits that provided far more monetary support than the settlement, such as food stamps, public assistance, and government pensions. A widow of a Vietnam veteran who died of Agent Orange exposure would only receive $3700.[60]

In 2004, Monsanto spokesman Jill Montgomery said Monsanto should not be liable at all for injuries or deaths caused by Agent Orange, saying: "We are sympathetic with people who believe they have been injured and understand their concern to find the cause, but reliable scientific evidence indicates that Agent Orange is not the cause of serious long-term health effects."[61]

New Jersey Agent Orange Commission[edit]

In 1980, New Jersey created the New Jersey Agent Orange Commission, the first state commission created to study its effects. The commission's research project in association with Rutgers University was called "The Pointman Project". It was disbanded by Governor Christine Todd Whitman in 1996.[62]

During Pointman I, commission researchers devised ways to determine small dioxin levels in blood. Prior to this, such levels could only be found in the adipose (fat) tissue. The project studied dioxin (TCDD) levels in blood as well as in adipose tissue in a small group of Vietnam veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange and compared them to those of a matched control group; the levels were found to be higher in the former group.[63]

The second phase of the project continued to examine and compare dioxin levels in various groups of Vietnam veterans, including Army, Marines and brown water riverboat Navy personnel.

U.S. Congress[edit]

In 1991, Congress enacted the Agent Orange Act, giving the Department of Veterans Affairs the authority to declare certain conditions 'presumptive' to exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, making these veterans who served in Vietnam eligible to receive treatment and compensation for these conditions.[64] The same law required the National Academy of Sciences to periodically review the science on dioxin and herbicides used in Vietnam to inform the Secretary of Veterans Affairs about the strength of the scientific evidence showing association between exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin and certain conditions.[65] The authority for the National Academy of Sciences reviews and addition of any new diseases to the presumptive list by the VA is expiring in 2015 under the sunset clause of the Agent Orange Act of 1991.[66] Through this process, the list of 'presumptive' conditions has grown since 1991, and currently the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has listed prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, type II diabetes mellitus, Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, peripheral neuropathy, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and spina bifida in children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange as conditions associated with exposure to the herbicide. This list now includes B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease, these last three having been added on August 31, 2010. Several highly placed individuals in government are voicing concerns about whether some of the diseases on the list should, in fact, actually have been included.[67]

In 2011 an appraisal of the 20 year long Air Force Health Study that began in 1982 indicates that the results of the AFHS as they pretain to Agent Orange, do not provide evidence of disease in the Ranch Hand veterans due to "their elevated levels of exposure to Agent Orange".[68]

The VA denied the applications of post-Vietnam C-123 aircrew veterans because as veterans without "boots on the ground" service in Vietnam, they were not covered under VA's interpretation of "exposed.". At the request of the VA, the Institute Of Medicine evaluated whether or not service in these C-123 aircraft could have plausibly exposed soldiers and been detrimental to their health. Their report "Post-Vietnam Dioxin Exposure in Agent Orange-Contaminated C-123 Aircraft" confirmed it.[69] In June 2015 the Secretary of Veterans Affairs issued an Interim final rule providing presumptive service connection for post-Vietnam C-123 aircrews, maintenance staff and aeromedical evacuation crews. VA now provides medical care and disability compensation for the recognized list of Agent Orange illnesses.[70]

U.S.–Vietnamese government negotiations[edit]

In 2002, Vietnam and the U.S. held a joint conference on Human Health and Environmental Impacts of Agent Orange. Following the conference, the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) began scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Vietnam, and began discussions for a joint research project on the human health impacts of Agent Orange.[71]

These negotiations broke down in 2005, when neither side could agree on the research protocol and the research project was cancelled. More progress has been made on the environmental front. In 2005, the first U.S.-Vietnam workshop on remediation of dioxin was held.[71]

Starting in 2005, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to work with the Vietnamese government to measure the level of dioxin at the Da Nang Airbase. Also in 2005, the Joint Advisory Committee on Agent Orange, made up of representatives of Vietnamese and U.S. government agencies, was established. The committee has been meeting yearly to explore areas of scientific cooperation, technical assistance and environmental remediation of dioxin.[72]

A breakthrough in the diplomatic stalemate on this issue occurred as a result of United States President George W. Bush's state visit to Vietnam in November 2006. In the joint statement, President Bush and President Triet agreed "further joint efforts to address the environmental contamination near former dioxin storage sites would make a valuable contribution to the continued development of their bilateral relationship."[73]

On May 25, 2007, President Bush signed the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007 into law for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that included an earmark of $3 million specifically for funding for programs for the remediation of dioxin 'hotspots' on former U.S. military bases, and for public health programs for the surrounding communities;[74] some authors consider this to be completely inadequate, pointing out that the U.S. airbase in Da Nang, alone, will cost $14 million to clean up, and that three others are estimated to require $60 million for cleanup.[75] The appropriation was renewed in the fiscal year 2009 and again in FY 2010. An additional $12 million was appropriated in the fiscal year 2010 in the Supplemental Appropriations Act and a total of $18.5 million appropriated for fiscal year 2011.[76]

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated during a visit to Hanoi in October 2010 that the U.S. government would begin work on the clean-up of dioxin contamination at the Da Nang airbase.[77]

In June 2011, a ceremony was held at Da Nang airport to mark the start of U.S.-funded decontamination of dioxin hotspots in Vietnam. Thirty-two million dollars has so far been allocated by the U.S. Congress to fund the program.[78]

A $43 million project began in the summer of 2012, as Vietnam and the U.S. forge closer ties to boost trade and counter China's rising influence in the disputed South China Sea.[79]

Vietnamese victims class action lawsuit in U.S. courts[edit]

On January 31, 2004, a victim's rights group, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin (VAVA), filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, against several U.S. companies for liability in causing personal injury, by developing, and producing the chemical, and claimed that the use of Agent Orange violated the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare, 1925 Geneva Protocol, and the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Dow Chemical and Monsanto were the two largest producers of Agent Orange for the U.S. military, and were named in the suit, along with the dozens of other companies (Diamond Shamrock, Uniroyal, Thompson Chemicals, Hercules, etc.). On March 10, 2005, Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the Eastern District – who had presided over the 1984 U.S. veterans class-action lawsuit – dismissed the lawsuit, ruling there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs' claims. He concluded Agent Orange was not considered a poison under international law at the time of its use by the U.S.; the U.S. was not prohibited from using it as a herbicide; and the companies which produced the substance were not liable for the method of its use by the government.[80] Weinstein used the British example to help dismiss the claims of people exposed to Agent Orange in their suit against the chemical companies that had supplied it.

The Department of Defense's Advanced Research Project Agency's (ARPA) Project AGILE was instrumental in the United States' development of herbicides as a military weapon, an undertaking inspired by the British use of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T to destroy jungle-grown crops and bushes during the insurgency in Malaya. The United States considered British precedent in deciding that the use of defoliants was a legally accepted tactic of war. On November 24, 1961, Secretary of State Dean Rusk advised President John F. Kennedy that herbicide use in Vietnam would be lawful, saying that "[t]he use of defoliant does not violate any rule of international law concerning the conduct of chemical warfare and is an accepted tactic of war. Precedent has been established by the British during the emergency in Malaya in their use of helicopters for destroying crops by chemical spraying."[81][82]

George Jackson stated that "if the Americans were guilty of war crimes for using Agent Orange in Vietnam, then the British would be also guilty of war crimes as well since they were the first nation to deploy the use of herbicides and defoliants in warfare and used them on a large scale throughout the Malayan Emergency. Not only was there no outcry by other states in response to Britain's use, but the U.S. viewed it as establishing a precedent for the use of herbicides and defoliants in jungle warfare." The U.S. government was also not a party in the lawsuit, due to sovereign immunity, and the court ruled the chemical companies, as contractors of the U.S. government, shared the same immunity.

The case was appealed and heard by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan on June 18, 2007. Three judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Weinstein's ruling to dismiss the case. They ruled that, though the herbicides contained a dioxin (a known poison), they were not intended to be used as a poison on humans. Therefore, they were not considered a chemical weapon and thus not a violation of international law. A further review of the case by the whole panel of judges of the Court of Appeals also confirmed this decision. The lawyers for the Vietnamese filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. On March 2, 2009, the Supreme Court denied certiorari and refused to reconsider the ruling of the Court of Appeals.[83][84]

In a November 2004 Zogby International poll of 987 people, 79% of respondents thought the U.S. chemical companies which produced Agent Orange defoliant should compensate U.S. soldiers who were affected by the toxic chemical used during the war in Vietnam. Also, 51% said they supported compensation for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims.[85]

Use outside Vietnam[edit]


In 2008, Australian researcher Jean Williams claimed that cancer rates in the town of Innisfail, Queensland were 10 times higher than the state average due to secret testing of Agent Orange by the Australian military scientists during the Vietnam War. Williams, who had won the Order of Australia medal for her research on the effects of chemicals on U.S. war veterans, based her allegations on Australian government reports found in the Australian War Memorial's archives. A former soldier, Ted Bosworth, backed up the claims, saying that he had been involved in the secret testing. Neither Williams or Bosworth have produced verifiable evidence to support their claims. The Queensland health department determined that cancer rates in Innisfail were no higher than those in other parts of the state.[86]


The Brazilian government in late 1981 and 1982 used herbicides to defoliate a large section of the Amazon rainforest so that Alcoa could build the Tucuruí dam to power mining operations.[87] Large areas of rainforest were destroyed, along with the homes and livelihoods of thousands of rural peasants and indigenous tribes.[88]


Agent Orange was used as a defoliant in eastern Cambodia during the Vietnam War, but its impacts are difficult to assess due to the chaos caused by the Khmer Rouge regime.[89]


New Brunswick[edit]

The U.S. military, with the permission of the Canadian government,[90] tested herbicides, including Agent Orange, in the forests near the Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick for three days in 1966 and four days in 1967. Soldiers working on the base at that time were advised that the chemicals would have no harmful effects on them, to the point they would spray each other with the chemical to cool off. This inaccuracy led many to later seek compensation for medical bills. Veteran John Chisholm worked on behalf of fellow veterans to help with claims for the compensation package.[91] On September 12, 2007, Greg Thompson, Minister of Veterans Affairs, announced that the government of Canada was offering a one-time ex gratia payment of $20,000 as the compensation package for Agent Orange exposure at CFB Gagetown.[92]

On July 12, 2005, Merchant Law Group LLP on behalf of over 1,100 Canadian veterans and civilians who were living in and around the CFB Gagetown filed a lawsuit to pursue class action litigation concerning Agent Orange and Agent Purple with the Federal Court of Canada.[93] On August 4, 2009, the case was rejected by the court due to lack of evidence. The ruling was appealed.[94][95]

In 2007 the Canadian government announced that a research and fact-finding program initiated in 2005 had found the base was safe.[96]


On February 17, 2011, the Toronto Star revealed that the same chemicals used to strip the jungles of Vietnam were also employed to clear extensive plots of Crown land in Northern Ontario.[97] The Toronto Star reported that, "records from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s show forestry workers, often students and junior rangers, spent weeks at a time as human markers holding red, helium-filled balloons on fishing lines while low-flying planes sprayed toxic herbicides including an infamous chemical mixture known as Agent Orange on the brush and the boys below."[97] The same day, in response to the Toronto Star article, the Ontario provincial government launched a probe into the use of Agent Orange.[98] On February 18, 2011, the next day, Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources widened the probe of Agent Orange spraying to include all areas of the province where government managed forests on Crown land.[99]

British Columbia[edit]

Records show tens of thousands of gallons of the toxic mixture were applied to clear brush near highways and along power lines in the late 1960s and early 1970s – and in some cases the substance was sprayed next to homes. In B.C., the mix of 2-4-D and 2-4-5-T was called "Type B Weed and Brush Killer" in government invoices. Sometimes, the engineers ordered 2-4-5-T by itself, and dubbed it "Type C Weed and Brush Killer".

In total, about 26,000 gallons of Type B Weed and Brush Killer were ordered between 1965 and 1972. About 10,000 gallons of Type C Weed and Brush Killer were ordered in the same time period. The barrels were shipped to all four of the regions of B.C. as designated by the Ministry of Highways: Kamloops, Nelson, Prince George and Vancouver.

In 1976, documents from BC Hydro show that 2-4-5-T and 2-4-D were sprayed along Hydro lines Vernon-Monashee and Nicola-Brenda circuits. The documents also say "brushkiller" was sprayed in Pemberton and Daisy Lake.[100]


An analysis of chemicals present in the island's soil, together with resolutions passed by Guam's legislature, suggest that Agent Orange was among the herbicides routinely used on and around military bases Anderson Air Force Base, Naval Air Station Agana, Guam. Despite the evidence, the Department of Defense continues to deny that Agent Orange was ever stored or used on Guam. Several Guam veterans have collected an enormous amount of evidence to assist in their disability claims for direct exposure to dioxin containing herbicides such as 2,4,5-T which are similar to the illness associations and disability coverage that has become standard for those who were harmed by the same chemical contaminant of Agent Orange used in Vietnam.[101]

As of January 23, 2017, an investigation launched by governor Eddie Calvo and lead by the Guam Environmental Protection Agency to test for traces of the chemicals. It is actively underway.[102][103]


Agent Orange was used in Korea in the late 1960s.[104] Republic of Korea troops were the only personnel involved in the spraying, which occurred along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). "Citing declassified U.S. Department of Defense documents, Korean officials fear thousands of its soldiers may have come into contact with the herbicide in the late 1960s and early 1970s. According to one top government official, as many as '30,000 Korean veterans are suffering from illness related to their exposure'. The exact number of GIs who may have been exposed is unknown. But C. David Benbow, a North Carolina attorney who served as a sergeant with Co. C, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, along the DMZ in 1968–69, estimates as many as '4,000 soldiers at any given time' could have been affected.".[105]

In 1999, about 20,000 South Koreans filed two separated lawsuits against U.S. companies, seeking more than $5 billion in damages. After losing a decision in 2002, they filed an appeal.[106]

In January 2006, the South Korean Appeals Court ordered Dow Chemical and Monsanto to pay $62 million in compensation to about 6,800 people. The ruling acknowledged that "the defendants failed to ensure safety as the defoliants manufactured by the defendants had higher levels of dioxins than standard", and, quoting the U.S. National Academy of Science report, declared that there was a "causal relationship" between Agent Orange and 11 diseases, including cancers of the lung, larynx and prostate. The judges failed to acknowledge "the relationship between the chemical and peripheral neuropathy, the disease most widespread among Agent Orange victims" according to the Mercury News.[107][108]

The United States local press KPHO-TV in Phoenix, Arizona alleged that the United States Army had buried Agent Orange in Camp Carroll, the U.S. Army base located in Gyeongsangbuk-do, Korea.[109] It is based on the claim of three U.S. Army veterans. They claimed approximately 250 drums of Agent Orange were buried at Camp Carroll in 1978. The South Korean Ministry of Environment announced that they will request cooperative investigation at Camp Carroll officially.[110] The USFK issued a statement that confirmed that barrels were buried there, but all (plus an additional 60 tons of soil) were removed in 1996.[111]

Currently, veterans who provide evidence meeting VA requirements for service in Vietnam, and who can medically establish that anytime after this 'presumptive exposure' they developed any medical problems on the list of presumptive diseases, may receive compensation from the VA. Certain veterans who served in Korea and are able to prove they were assigned to certain specified around the DMZ during a specific time frame are afforded similar presumption.[112] The differences in requirements between Vietnam and Korea service stem from the fact that congress has not made any laws to provide for the same sweeping presumption of exposure similar to the Agent Orange Act of 1991 for Korean veterans.


Parts of Laos were sprayed with Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.[113] A number of Agent Orange was sprayed in Laos, all aimed at VietCong[114][115][116] Up until September 1969, the US AIr Force sprayed approximately 419,850 gallons over 163, 066 acres of Laos. 75% of those Agent Orange, followed by Agent Blue and Agent White.

New Zealand[edit]

The Ivon Watkins-Dow factory in New Plymouth, New Zealand

The use of Agent Orange has been controversial in New Zealand, because of the exposure of New Zealand troops in Vietnam and because of the production of Agent Orange for Vietnam and other users at an Ivon Watkins-Dow chemical plant in Paritutu, New Plymouth. There have been continuing claims, as yet unproven, that the suburb of Paritutu has also been polluted; see New Zealand in the Vietnam War.[117] There are cases of New Zealand soldiers developing cancers such as bone cancer but none has been scientifically connected to exposure to herbicides.


Herbicide persistence studies of Agents Orange and White were conducted in the Philippines.[118] The Philippine herbicide test program was conducted in cooperation with the University of the Philippines, College of Forestry and was described in a 1969 issue of The Philippine Collegian.

Johnston Atoll[edit]

Leaking Agent Orange barrels at Johnston Atoll circa 1973.
Rusting Agent Orange barrels at Johnston Atoll, circa 1976.

The U.S. Air Force operation to remove Herbicide Orange from Vietnam in 1972 was named Operation Pacer IVY, while the operation to destroy the Agent Orange stored at Johnston Atoll in 1977 was named Operation Pacer HO. Operation Pacer IVY (InVentorY) collected Agent Orange in South Vietnam and removed it in 1972 aboard the ship MV Transpacific for storage on Johnston Atoll.[119] The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that 1,800,000 gallons of Herbicide Orange was stored at Johnston Island in the Pacific and 480,000 gallons at Gulfport Mississippi.[120]

Research and studies were initiated to find a safe method to destroy the materials and it was discovered they could be incinerated safely under special conditions of temperature and dwell time.[120] However, these herbicides were expensive and the Air Force wanted to resell its surplus instead of dumping it at sea.[121] Among many methods tested, a possibility of salvaging the herbicides by reprocessing and filtering out the 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) contaminant with carbonized (charcoaled) coconut fibers. This concept was then tested in 1976 and a pilot plant constructed at Gulfport, Mississippi.[120]

From July to September 1977 during Operation Pacer HO (Herbicide Orange), the entire stock of Agent Orange from both Herbicide Orange storage sites at Gulfport, Mississippi and Johnston Atoll was subsequently incinerated in four separate burns in the vicinity of Johnson Island aboard the Dutch-owned waste incineration ship MT Vulcanus.[121]

As of 2004, some records of the storage and disposition of Agent Orange at Johnston Atoll have been associated with the historical records of Operation Red Hat.[122]

Okinawa, Japan[edit]

There have been dozens of reports in the press about use and/or storage of military formulated herbicides on Okinawa that are based upon statements by former U.S. service members that had been stationed on the island, photographs, government records, and unearthed storage barrels. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has denied these allegations with statements by military officials and spokespersons, as well as a January 2013 report authored by Dr. Alvin Young that was released in April 2013.[119][123] Dr. Young has long argued against Agent Orange harmful effects. As reported in court documents covering the Agent Orange lawsuits, in May 1985 "White House scientist Alvin L. Young, a toxicologist, recommends that no further research on dioxin should be funded, "because research has failed to show it causes cancer or birth defects in humans."

A scientific study of the effects military contamination at Johnston Atoll included a statement confirming records of Agent Orange storage in Okinawa.[124]

In particular, the 2013 report refuted articles written by journalist Jon Mitchell as well as a statement from "An Ecological Assessment of Johnston Atoll" a 2003 publication produced by the United States Army Chemical Materials Agency that states, "in 1972, the U.S. Air Force also brought about 25,000 55-gallon (208L) drums of the chemical, Herbicide Orange (HO) to Johnston Island that originated from Vietnam and was stored on Okinawa."[124] The 2013 report stated: "The authors of the [2003] report were not DoD employees, nor were they likely familiar with the issues surrounding Herbicide Orange or its actual history of transport to the Island." and detailed the transport phases and routes of Agent Orange from Vietnam to Johnston Atoll, none of which included Okinawa.[119]

Excerpt of U.S. Army 1971 Fort Detrick report describes Tactical Herbicide stockpiles of U.S. Government restricted materials on Okinawa at Kadena AFB, in Thailand, and Vietnam.[125][126]

Further official confirmation of restricted (dioxin containing) herbicide storage on Okinawa appeared in a 1971 Fort Detrick report titled "Historical, Logistical, Political and Technical Aspects of the Herbicide/Defoliant Program", which mentioned that the environmental statement should consider "Herbicide stockpiles elsewhere in PACOM (Pacific Command) U.S. Government restricted materials Thailand and Okinawa (Kadena AFB)."[125] The 2013 DoD report says that the environmental statement urged by the 1971 report was published in 1974 as "The Department of Air Force Final Environmental Statement", and that the latter did not find Agent Orange was held in either Thailand or Okinawa.[119][123]

In 2013, an award was awarded to a veteran who had suffered due to Agent Orange.[127] In 2014, all the key components of Agent Orange were discovered at a former military dumpsite in Okinawa City; last June, nearby water was found to be contaminated with dioxin, the poison that makes defoliants so dangerous, at 21,000 times government safety levels.[127]

Despite this apparently incontrovertible evidence, the Pentagon continues to deny there is any proof defoliants were ever present on Okinawa, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has awarded compensation to only a handful of those claiming exposure on the island.[128]

Kadena airport was one of the busiest airports on the planet, as an estimated 1 million military flights shuttled troops and supplies to the conflict. It showed that the airport suffered serious contamination of chemicals, one of which is Agent Orange.[129][130]


Agent Orange was tested by the United States in Thailand during the war in Southeast Asia. Buried drums were uncovered and confirmed to be Agent Orange in 1999.[131] Workers who uncovered the drums fell ill while upgrading the airport near Hua Hin, located 100 km south of Bangkok.[132]

Vietnam-era Veterans whose service involved duty on or near the perimeters of military bases in Thailand anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975 may have been exposed to herbicides and may qualify for VA benefits.[133]

A declassified Department of Defense report written in 1973, suggests that there was a significant use of herbicides on the fenced-in perimeters of military bases in Thailand to remove foliage that provided cover for enemy forces.[134]

In 2013, VA determined that herbicides used on the Thailand base perimeters may have been tactical and procured from Vietnam, or a strong, commercial type resembling tactical herbicides.[135]

United States[edit]

The University of Hawaii has acknowledged extensive testing of Agent Orange on behalf of the United States Department of Defense in Hawaii along with mixtures of Agent Orange on Kaua'i Island in 1967-68 and on Hawaii Island in 1966; testing and storage in other U.S. locations has been documented by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.[136][137]

In 1971, the C-123 aircraft used for spraying Agent Orange were returned to the United States and assigned various East Coast USAF Reserve squadrons, and then employed in traditional airlift missions between 1972 and 1982. In 1994, testing by the Air Force identified some former spray aircraft as "heavily contaminated" with dioxin residue. Inquiries by aircrew veterans in 2011 brought a decision by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opining that not enough dioxin residue remained to injure these post-Vietnam War veterans. On 26 January 2012, the U.S. Center For Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry challenged this with their finding that former spray aircraft were indeed contaminated and the aircrews exposed to harmful levels of dioxin. In response to veterans' concerns, the VA in February 2014 referred the C-123 issue to the Institute of Medicine for a special study, with results released on January 9, 2015.[138][139]

In 1978, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suspended spraying of Agent Orange in National Forests.[140]

A report by the DOD from December 2006 report listed Agent Orange testing, storage, and disposal sites at 32 locations throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Thailand, Puerto Rico, Korea, and in the Pacific Ocean.[141] The Veteran Administration has also acknowledged that Agent Orange was used domestically by U.S. forces in test sites throughout the United States. Eglin Air Force Base in Florida was one of the primary testing sites throughout the 1960s.[142]

Cleanup programs[edit]

In February 2012, Monsanto agreed to settle a case covering Dioxin contamination around a plant in Nitro, West Virginia that had made Agent Orange. Monsanto agreed to pay up to $9 million for cleanup of affected homes, $84 million for medical monitoring of people affected, and the community's legal fees.[143][144]

On 9 August 2012, the United States and Vietnam began a cooperative cleaning up of the toxic chemical on part of Danang International Airport, marking the first time Washington has been involved in cleaning up Agent Orange in Vietnam. Danang was the primary storage site of the chemical. Two other cleanup sites the United States and Vietnam are looking at is Biên Hòa, in the southern province of Đồng Nai—a "hotspot" for dioxin—and Phù Cát airport in the central province of Bình Định, says U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear. According to the Vietnamese newspaper Nhân Dân, the U.S. government provided $41 million to the project, which will reduce the contamination level in 73,000 m³ of soil by late 2016.[145] Some 45,000 cubic meters were "cleaned", an equal amount began in October 2016 scheduled for completion in mid 2017.[146]

Due to the fact that destruction requires high temperatures (over 1000 degrees C), the destruction process is energy intensive.[147] There have also been studies using microbial degradation techniques.

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Further reading[edit]


  • Arnold, Jason Ross (2014). Secrecy in the Sunshine Era: The Promise and Failures of U.S. Open Government Laws. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700619924.  see pages 245-252.
  • Bouny, André (2010). Agent Orange: Apocalypse Viêt Nam (in French). Demi-Lune editions. ISBN 978-2-917112-11-3.  with a foreword by Howard Zinn.
  • Capdeville, Y; Gendreau, F.; Meynard, J., eds. (2005). L'agent orange au Viet-nam: Crime d'hier, tragédie d'aujourd'hui (in French). Tiresias editions. ISBN 2-915293-23-6. 
  • Cecil, Paul Frederick (1986). Herbicidal warfare: the Ranch Hand Project in Vietnam. Praeger. ISBN 978-0-275-92007-4. 
  • Đại, Lê Cao (2000). Agent Orange in the Vietnam War: History and Consequences. Vietnam Red Cross Society. 
  • Gibbs, Lois Marie (1995). "Agent Orange and Vietnam Veterans". Dying From Dioxins. South End Press. pp. 14–20. ISBN 978-0-89608-525-1. 
  • Griffiths, Philip Jones (2004). Agent Orange: Collateral Damage in Vietnam. Alpen Editions. ISBN 978-1-904563-05-1. 
  • Linedecker, Clifford; Ryan, Michael; Ryan, Maureen (1982). Kerry: Agent Orange and an American Family (1st ed.). St. Martins Press. ISBN 978-0-312-45112-7. 
  • Martini, Edwin A. Agent Orange: History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.
  • Schecter, Arnold (1994). Dioxins and health. Springer. ISBN 978-0-306-44785-3. 
  • Sills, Peter (2014). Toxic War: The Story of Agent Orange. Vanderbilt University Press. ISBN 978-0-826519-62-7. 
  • Uhl, Michael; Ensign, Tod (1980). GI Guinea Pigs: How the Pentagon Exposed Our Troops to Dangers Deadlier than War (1st ed.). Playboy Press. ISBN 978-0-87223-569-4. 
  • Zierler, David (2011). The Invention of Ecocide. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 978-0-8203-3827-9. 
  • Wilcox, Fred (2011). Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 978-1-60980-138-0. 
  • Wilcox, Fred (2011). Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 978-1-60980-136-6. 

Journal articles/papers[edit]

  • Weisman, Joan Murray. The Effects of Exposure to Agent Orange on the Intellectual Functioning, Academic Achievement, Visual Motor Skill, and Activity Level of the Offspring of Vietnam War Veterans. Doctoral thesis. Hofstra University. 1986.
  • Kuehn, Bridget M.; Agent Orange Effects, Journal of the American Medical Association, 2010;303(8):722.

Government/NGO reports[edit]



  • Agent Orange: The Last Battle. Dir. Stephanie Jobe, Adam Scholl. DVD. 2005
  • "HADES" Dir. Caroline Delerue, Screenplay Mauro Bellanova 2011


External links[edit]