indoleacetic acid

Agent Orange

Agent Orange is the code name for a powerful herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S. military in its Herbicidal Warfare program during the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, an estimated 80 000 m³ of Agent Orange were deployed in South Vietnam.

Agent Orange's usage from 1961 to 1971 was by far the most used of the so-called "Rainbow Herbicides" used during the program. Degradation of Agent Orange (as well as Agents Purple, Pink, and Green) released dioxins, which have caused health problems for those exposed during the Vietnam War. Agents Blue and White were part of the same program but did not contain dioxins.

Studies of populations exposed to dioxin, though not necessarily agent orange, indicate increased risk of various types of cancer and genetic defects; the effect of long-term low-level exposure has not been established.

Since the nineteen-eighties, several lawsuits have been filed against the companies which produced agent orange, among them; Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and Diamond Shamrock (which produced 5%). U.S. veterans obtained a $180 million settlement in 1984, with most affected veterans receiving a one-time lump sum payment of $1,200.

American veterans of the Vietnam war were seeking recognition of agent orange syndrome, compensation and treatment for diseases that they and their children suffered from; many exposed to agent orange have not been able to receive promised medical care through the Veterans Administration medical system, and only with rare exception have their affected children received healthcare assistance from the government.

Vietnam veterans and their families who brought the original agent orange lawsuit 25 years ago alleged that the government "is just waiting for us all to die". They alleged that most of those still alive would succumb to the effects of toxic exposure before the age of 65.

In Australia, Canada and New Zealand, veterans obtained compensation in settlements that same year. In 1999, South Korean veterans filed a lawsuit in the Korean courts. In January 2006, the Korean Appeal Court ordered Monsanto and Dow to pay US$62 million in compensation. However, no Vietnamese have received compensation, and on March 10, 2006, Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Vietnamese victims of agent orange against the chemical companies which produced the defoliants and herbicides.

Early Development

The earliest form of the compound triiodobenzoic acid was studied by Arthur Galston as a plant growth hormone. The research was motivated by the desire to adapt soybeans for short growing season. Galston found that excessive usage of the compound caused catastrophic defoliation - a finding used by his colleague Ian Sussex to develop a family of herbicides (Galston later campaigned against its use in Vietnam). These herbicides were developed during the 1940s by independent teams in England and the United States for use in controlling broad-leaf plants. Phenoxyl agents work by mimicking a plant growth hormone, indoleacetic acid (IAA). When sprayed on broad-leaf plants they induce rapid, uncontrolled growth, eventually defoliating them. When sprayed on crops such as wheat or corn, it selectively kills only the broad-leaf weeds in the field, leaving the crop relatively unaffected. First introduced in 1946 in the agricultural farms of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, these herbicides were in widespread use in agriculture by the middle of the 1950s.


Agent orange was given its name from the color of the 55 U.S. gallon (210 liter) orange-striped barrels it was shipped in. It is a roughly 1:1 mixture of two phenoxyl herbicides in ester form, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T).

Internal memos from the companies that manufactured it reveal that at the time Agent Orange was sold to the U.S. government for use in Vietnam it was known that it contained dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), a by-product of the manufacture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. The National Toxicology Program has classified TCDD to be a human carcinogen, frequently associated with soft-tissue sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). In a study by the Institute of Medicine, a link has been found between dioxin exposure and diabetes., Three studies have suggested an increas in the risk of acute myelogenous leukemia in the children of Vietnam veterans, which might be associated with exposure to agent orange. A variety of other conditions have been suggested to be linked to exposure, but studies have failed to confirm a link with these diseases.

Vietnam Case

During the Vietnam war, between 1962 and 1971, the United States military sprayed 77 million litres of chemical defoliants in South Vietnam as part of a defoliant program to deny cover for their Vietnamese opponents.

According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to agent orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects. 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 sub-standard conditions with many genetic diseases.

Much of the information on the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam until the 21st century, were compiled by Vietnamese scientists in Vietnamese and largely unavailable to the worldwide English reader. However, general public perception in Vietnam is that the effects are severe and clearly visible in children of veterans and people in affected areas.

Use outside of Vietnam

The use of Agent Orange by the US Military, from the late 1940s through the 1970, was extremely wide spread. It may not be much of an exaggeration to say that Agent Orange was probably used at all military bases located on foreign and domestic soil, at some time or other. An extensive overview of military use of Agent Orange can be found at and there are several documents very specific to this extensive, such as found at


In September 2000, the Veteran Administration (VA) recognized that Agent Orange was used in Korea in the late 1960s. Republic of Korea troops are reported to have done the spraying, which occurred along the demilitarized zone with North Korea. The VA has also acknowledged that Agent Orange was used domestically by U.S. forces.

Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada

The U.S. military, with the permission of the Canadian government, secretly tested many unregistered U.S. military herbicides, including Agent Orange, in the forests near the Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick in 1966 and 1967. On September 12, 2007, Greg Thompson, Minister of Veterans Affairs, announced that the government of Canada is offering a one-time ex gratia payment of $20,000 as the compensation package for Agent Orange exposure at CFB Gagetown.

Globe, Arizona

Billee Shoecraft died in 1977 of cancer. She began suffering from cancer after a helicopter sprayed her with the defoliant Kuron. Before her death, Shoecraft wrote a book about her experience in which she said that after she was sprayed her eyes were nearly swollen shut, her arms and legs were swollen twice normal size and her hair was coming out in patches. Kuron, a herbicide related to Agent Orange, was sprayed by the U.S. Forest Service to thin foliage and increase water runoff in the Pinal Mountains of the Tonto National Forest near Globe, Arizona, in 1968 and 1969. Dow Chemical Company and the U.S.Forest Service paid an undisclosed sum to five families. Shoecraft wrote a book entitled, Sue the Bastards!, about her incident in 1971.

Innisfail, Australia

It is speculated that the Australian military tested Agent Orange on Innisfail, a small town in northern Queensland, between 1964 and 1966 . Files from the Australian War Memorial archives showed the chemicals 2,4-D, Diquat, Tordon and dimethyl sulphoxide (DMSO) were sprayed on the rainforest in the Gregory Falls area in June 1966, as part of a wider chemical weapons test program dubbed 'Operation Desert'. However, documents detailing Operation Desert have been lost.

These claims have since been proved false by a Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) investigation. They found that there was a small-scale defoliation trial conducted in the Gregory Falls area near Innisfail in 1966 but it didn't involve Agent Orange. Claims the cancer rate was 10 times as high in Innisfail were also proved to be untrue by QLD health who have stated it was called by media miscalculations.

Effects of the program

New Jersey Agent Orange Commission

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.

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 compared dioxin levels in a small group of Vietnam veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange with a group of matched veterans who had not served in Vietnam. The results of this project were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1988.

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.


In 1984, Agent Orange manufacturers paid Australian, Canadian and New Zealand veterans in an out-of-court settlement.

U.S. Vietnamese victims class action lawsuit

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. 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.). A number of lawsuits by American GIs were settled out of court - without admission of liability by the chemical companies - in the years since the Vietnam War. In 1984, some chemical companies that manufactured Agent Orange paid $180 million into a fund for United States veterans following a lawsuit.

On March 10, 2005, Judge Jack B. Weinstein - who had defended the U.S. veterans victims of Agent Orange - dismissed the suit, ruling that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs' claims. The judge concluded that Agent Orange was not considered a poison under international law at the time of its use by the U.S.; that the U.S. was not prohibited from using it as a herbicide; and that the companies which produced the substance were not liable for the method of its use by the government. The U.S. government is not a party in the lawsuit, claiming sovereign immunity.

In order to assist those who have been impacted by Agent Orange/Dioxin, the Vietnamese have established "Peace villages", which each host between 50 to 100 victims, giving them medical and psychological help. As of 2006, there were 11 such villages, thus granting some social protection to fewer than a thousand victims. U.S. veterans of the war in Vietnam and individuals who are aware and sympathetic to the impacts of Agent Orange have also supported these programs in Vietnam. An international group of Veterans from the U.S. and its allies during the Vietnam war working together with their former enemy - veterans from the Vietnam Veterans Association - established the Vietnam Friendship Village located outside of Hanoi. The center provides medical care, rehabilitation and vocational training for children and veterans from Vietnam who have been impacted by Agent Orange.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has listed prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, type II diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, peripheral neuropathy, and spina bifida in children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange as side effects of the herbicide.

South Korean lawsuit

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.

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. However, 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.

Canada lawsuit

In July 12, 2005, Merchant Law Group LLP on behalf of over 1,100 Canada 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 to the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba. Until September 30, 2007, the case is still going.

See also


Further reading

  • 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. Doc toral thesis. Hofstra University. 1986.
  • Klein, Robert. Wounded Men, Broken Promises. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1981.
  • Uhl, Michael, and Tod Ensign. GI Guinea Pigs. 1st Ed. New York: Playboy Press, 1981.
  • Linedecker, Clifford, Michael Ryan, and Maureen Ryan. Kerry: Agent Orange and an American Family. New York: St. Martins Press, 1982.
  • Wilcox, Fred A. Waiting for an Army to Die. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1983.
  • Sweet,Robert D.

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