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Category: Conflicts/Vietnam

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Agent Orange and other chemicals

A light plane sprays some of the 19 million gallons of defoliant used in Viet Nam. Each plane could destroy 350 acres of forest per run. A spray run took less than 4 minutes, used 1,000 gallons of Agent Orange and was often sprayed by 3 planes flying side by side. That meant 1 run equaled 1,000 acres of jungle destroyed.
  • Nothing about the most controversial war in our history created more discussion than the use of chemicals.
  • Mostly the were used as defoliants in an attempt to make the jungle less dangerous to Allied soldiers and less of a refuge to Victor Charles. It didn't work very well and the cost is immeasurable.
  • The other use of large quantities of chemicals was in insect control.
  • There is a very strong feeling amongst veterans that huge medical problems have resulted for themselves and their descendents.
Air Force C-123 "Patches", The Air Force C-123 that took the most ground fire of any aircraft flying herbicide missions in Vietnam (U.S. Air force Photo)
What is it and why use it?

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 1940's, serious testing for military applications did not begin until the early 1960's.

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 1960's, and brought into ever widening use during the height of the war (1967-68), though it's 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 product's contamination with TCDD, or dioxin. TCDD is one of a family of dioxins, some found in nature, and are cousins of the dibenzofurans and pcb's.

The TCDD 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 always unwanted byproduct of the chemical manufacturing process. The Agent Orange used in Vietnam was later found to be extremely contaminated with TCDD.


The Fifteen Herbicides Used in Vietnam

  • PURPLE: A formulation of 2,4,-D and 2,4,5,-T used between 1962 and 1964.
  • GREEN: Contained 2,4,5-T and was used 1962-1964.
  • PINK: Contained 2,4,5-T and was used 1962-1964.
  • ORANGE: A formulation of 2,4,-D and 2,4,5-T used between 1965 and 1970.
  • WHITE: A formulation of Picloram and 2,4,-D.
  • BLUE: Contained cacodylic acid.
  • ORANGE II: A formulation of 2,4,-D and 2,4,5-T used in 1968 and 1969 (also sometimes referred to as "Super Orange")
  • DINOXOL: A formulation of 2,4,-D and 2,4,,5-T. Small quantities were tested in Vietnam between 1962 and 1964.
  • TRINOXOL: Contained 2,4,5-T. Small quantities tested in Vietnam 1962-1964.
    • DIQUAT:
    • TANDEX:
    • MONURON:
    • DIURON:
    • DALAPON:

Small quantities of all of the above were tested in Vietnam, 1962-1964.

C123 PROVIDERS spraying herbicides iover the Republic of Vietnam

The Question & Answer section below is from an American public service site.
What was Agent Orange?
Agent Orange was a herbicide developed for military use. Chemically, the product was a 50/50 mix of two herbicides, 2,4,-D (2,4, dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) and 2,4,5-T (2,4,5 trichlorophenoxyacetic acid). These herbicides were both developed as weed killers in the 1940's, and were effective against broad leaf plants and several crops.

Why did the military use herbicides?
Herbicides were developed to be deployed in enemy areas to deny cover and concealment to the enemy. In dense terrain particularly, the use of herbicides to destroy covering vegetation was to protect American and allied troops from ambush or other undetected movement of the enemy.

Prior to it's introduction for use in Vietnam, was Agent Orange used in the United States?
Yes. During the testing phase of Agent Orange, use tests were carried out at Fort Detrick, Maryland, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, and Camp Drum in New York. Other testing was also conducted in Thailand in the early 1960's.  

Why was the product called Agent Orange?
The name signifies orange identifying bands that were used on the fifty-five gallon drums the product was shipped in. Other herbicides were also used in Vietnam, and were known by color coded names too, such Agent White, Agent Blue, Agent Purple, Agent Pink and Agent Green were also used.

Who were the manufacturers who produced Agent Orange for the military?
Dow, Monsanto, Diamond Shamrock Corporation, Hercules Inc., Uniroyal Inc., T-H Agricultural & Nutrition Company, and Thompson Chemicals Corporation. These companies were subjects of a class action lawsuit filed originally in 1979 and settled out of court in 1987 for $180 million. The official name of the lawsuit was Multidistrict litigation 381 (MDL 381), and was designated In re Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation.

I want (or I had) an "Agent Orange Test", sometimes thought to be given by the VA -- What is this?
There is no such thing as an Agent Orange Test. This is often confused with two things:

1. The Agent Orange screening physical given at VA Medical Centers: This test is nothing more that a general physical which includes examination, X-rays and blood work. It does not detect Agent Orange exposure. This physical is useful only as any routine physical is useful in early detection of disease or health problems. The VA does keep these results in a registry.

2. Dioxin analysis of the blood or fatty tissue: There are sophisticated tests which will measure dioxin levels in both blood and fatty tissues. (Dioxin is the unwanted byproduct in Agent Orange). These tests are research-oriented only, and have never been available on a large-scale or clinical basis. The VA does not perform these tests. Only a few laboratories in the world are able to do this testing, and it is usually quite expensive, around $1500-$2000 per test.

Can I sue the government or the chemical companies?
No. Title 38 of the United States Code prohibits veterans from suing the government for injuries suffered while in the military. A class action suit was filed in behalf of veterans in 1979 against the chemical companies and settled out of court. The final funds in this legal action were distributed by 1992. Additional attempts to sue the manufacturers have been attempted, and have been prohibited by the courts. The most strongly fought of these legal battles, Ivy vs. Diamond Shamrock was supported in behalf of the plaintiff by attorney generals in all fifty states, the Supreme Court, however, refused to hear the arguments and that case ended in 1992. In the parlance of the court, the issue is "res judicata" or "the matter is settled".


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