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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.