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Does Agent Orange Cause Cancer?

"Stop, Children, What's that sound? Everybody look what's going down..."

20 Million Gallons Sprayed

The key on the left tells you how much was sprayed and where. Check out the last box for previous war disabilities to see the obvious rise in numbers for Vietnam compared to other wars.

The key on the left tells you how much was sprayed and where. Check out the last box for previous war disabilities to see the obvious rise in numbers for Vietnam compared to other wars.

Quick Notes

Chemicals

herbicide -is meant to kill weeds and unwanted plants. It is the mixture of two pesticides and since 1930, heavily used in the growing of our crops to kill off plants that were infringing on crops which increased food production. It later came into use in warfare to devastate huge land masses of jungles and vegetation to destroy their growth.

pesticide - is meant to kill, destroy or be a repellant for some form of life. According to the EPA, its job is primarily "preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating any pest. It is a category term for herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. Pesticides have active ingredients that kill the pest and inert ingredients that help the active ingredients work better."

insecticide -is meant to kill insects. DDT is the most well known insecticide, popularized by Rachel Carson's 1962 book "Silent Spring." The link allows you to read more about how it was sprayed on our crops and linked to cancers in animals, which led to research on how it affected humans.

fungicide - is meant to kill fungi or fungal spores. Used in crops and animals to control fungal infections and infestations.

defoliant - any chemical that causes leaves to fall off a plant or tree

The Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) was not formed until 1972 to bring this category under regulation.

Interesting Facts

The Geneva Conventions - a convention where a group of countries agreed they would not use chemical warfare. If they did or were caught doing so, they were said to be in violation of the Geneva Accord. Documents were drawn up, spelling out the rules for wartime, which would protect people who were not involved in the hostile areas but also the sick, wounded armed forces on the field; wounded, sick, and shipwrecked armed forces at sea as well as civilians.

The Geneva Accord of 1954 (between France and South Vietnam, also known as Viet Cong) -divides the area giving the Viet Cong the rule of territory south of the 17th parallel but to still be sponsored as a French dependency. South Vietnam said no, they preferred American sponsorship, intentionally rejected and didn't sign the agreement. Thus, if they didn't sign, they felt they were not bound by the agreement. They then divided the country in half and went to war.

Eisenhower pledged support to South Vietnam January 24, 1954 - "with strings attached" - he sent military advisors to train South Vietnamese. In 1955, he sent in the CIA to conduct psychological warfare against the North. In 1961, Kennedy secretly sent 400 Special Ops Green Berets to teach them how to fight, but when he was assassinated, seeing there were more than 16,000 military advisors in South Vietnam, President Johnson made the decision to leave them there, and declare war.

The USA officially entered the Vietnam War in August 1964. President Johnson was granted a "functional" declaration of war by Congress (they have to give the President the go ahead to declare war. This is one thing he can't do it on his own). By March 1965, this authorized the bombing north of the 17th parallel on North Vietnam. He sent 3500 Marines to South Vietnam, and the US was now officially at war.

The Vietnam War -1955-1975.

1) North Vietnam side included the Soviet Union and China who fought alongside communist rebels in Cambodia & Laos against the US governments who backed them.

2) South Vietnam (Viet Cong) side included USA, Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Free World Military Forces and a few smaller countries. The North claimed victory in winning the war.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson - a 1962 book about the use of DDT, a pesticide primarily used in World War II to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes. She called out the bad uses of DDT where it hurt the environment, crops and living things, especially birds, which were the basis for her book.

Monsanto and several large chemical companies actually threatened her with lawsuits about her DDT claims which inspired a whole generation to start becoming more aware. The chemical companies even tried to put it down to her being a "hysterical woman" so people would not believe her claims.

In 1972, DDT was banned for agricultural use. The 50th anniversary edition brings the history up to date. Rachel Carson suffered with various cancers but died of a heart attack in 1964. The link is to an impressive website set up in her honor.

The Paris Peace Accord was signed in 1973, but the fighting didn't stop until 1975, putting both countries in violation of the accord. This set the theater for war crimes, trials, tribunals and inquests.

Who were the Viet Cong? (VC)

The Viet Cong started out as a haphazard group of guerrilla fighters who supported North Vietnam's cause which was - to accept being ruled by the Soviet Union, a Communist country. Most of North Vietnam citizens were communist and when the Soviets wanted to conquer the country to bring all of the country under Communist rule, South Vietnam said "no way."

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Thus was the beginning of the war between the North and the South that endured 20 years. The Viet Cong army was dissolved in 1976, when the whole country came under Communist rule after all.

This army had a very sly streak running through it, both in how they fought, what they savagely did to the people in each village they entered, and to their captured prisoners - whether they were civilians or military.

It made the USA hate them all the more and that hate was transferred to the citizens of the United States. Liberal use of Agent Orange wasn't given a second thought nor were the aftereffects of its use.

The name Viet Cong means "Vietnamese Communist," however their name was referred to in USA and South Vietnam circles as "Charlie," "Vietnamese commie," or "VC." None of these terms were meant affectionately.

Agent Orange

This is not a hub about the Vietnam War. It may look like it, but it really isn't.

This hub is about the chemical named Agent Orange, about the illnesses that exposure to it has caused, and about how even now, more than 40 years later, Agent Orange is still affecting the people who were exposed to it during the Vietnam War. Contrary to popular belief, not only soldiers got sick, civilians did too. One both sides of the war.

If the words "Agent Orange" don't ring a bell with you, it may be that you are too young to remember. Or maybe you're like the many kids who hated History class, where it all went in one ear and out the other.

In any event, to be able to discuss Agent Orange and its effects, I need to bring you up to speed on some of the events that led up to how these people got sick in the first place and in order to do that, I have to give a little history lesson about Vietnam.

I will attempt to do that with some detail about the Vietnam War, and the American, Australian, British, Soviet, Chinese, and Vietnamese soldiers who fought there. If it wasn't for events leading countries to go to war, these soldiers probably wouldn't have been there to be dealing with effects of Agent Orange today.

As we go further in this article, the herbicides, defoliants and all of the different "cides" I'll be referring to can get confusing, so I've put a glossary in the sidebar with definitions and some details about important events. Please click the links for more details. If you have a scientific mind and understand all the formulas, this link will lead you to a site that details each chemical.

So, what is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange is a herbicide.

So ... what's a herbicide?

It's a combination of two very strong pesticides developed by The Monsanto Company and Dow Chemical Company. Over two-thirds of the formula contained TCDD - dioxin, a highly toxic substance, which has since been linked to many types of cancers and severe birth defects.

A herbicide cannot be targeted to a certain area - it kills the ground and all its vegetation.

A pesticide is slightly target specific, I guess you can say, because it kills only pests and insects, but it kills them no matter where they reside.

Combine the two and you have a toxic combination that is not fit for man nor beast. The word "afterlife" refers to residual - how long it remains in the ground and in the air. It was an unknown at the time, but when you read historical documents, it was something no one worried about anyway.

Why was Agent Orange ever developed in the first place?

Likely the way most things are invented or developed - either out of necessity or out of desperation. The South Vietnamese were desperate to win the war against the North Vietnamese - to avoid coming under Communist rule.

The Vietnam War wasn't the first war to use chemicals. During the early 1950s, the British used herbicides and defoliants to destroy the bushes, trees and crops in Malayan Emergency. In 1951, the Malayan government bought more than 15,000 gallons of Trioxone and since the British were familiar with using defoliants, the Malayans asked for use instructions in their war against communist influences.

Ten years later, in August 1961, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem wanted something to get rid of the overgrown forests so that the enemy couldn't hide and use them as shields.

The answer was herbicides and defoliants to be sprayed all over the dense crops, trees and forests of North Vietnam to prevent them from hiding and also of food sources. To that end, they asked for the USA for more help in addition to what the USA were already giving them since the Eisenhower years, with all their resources on land, sea, air, manpower and technology, the United States was able to fill the need.

Everyone got more than they bargained for.

Agent Orange - A Weapon of War?

With the exception of the Malayan Emergency in 1951, herbicides had been used mostly in agriculture (crops). In November 1961, President John F. Kennedy authorized the start of Operation Ranch Hand, the US Air Force's code name for the Vietnam herbicide program (they seemed to have a code name for everything).

Two of the largest US chemical companies were asked to fill South Vietnam's herbicide request. However, Congress was conflicted because as part of the Geneva Convention, chemical warfare was a violation.

But, because the British had already used herbicides and defoliants during the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s, the US cited past practice as approval to go ahead, even though chemicals in former wars were nowhere near the lethal combination of two herbicides that made up the formula for Agent Orange. As I have stated in my other plagarism hubs, if you see past practices exercised often enough, they become acceptable practices. So as a general rule, the assumption of past practice as approval carries across the board.

Monsanto and Dow were also conflicted about supplying such dangerous chemicals in bulk. They didn't stay conflicted for long.

The Geneva Convention says if a country requires supplies from any company in war time, then the company must supply it. That they were paid handsomely did not go unnoticed.

The purpose of Agent Orange was to kill all vegetation, food bearing plants and trees so the enemy would have nowhere to hide, and thereby losing many food sources.

In past practice, it pays to go to war because the loser of the warring countries tend to see their economy rejuvenated and their cities rebuilt when war is over, but not all. So, whenever there is a chance to make money on a war, other countries come out of the woodwork and all of a sudden, it becomes everyone's war.

The US, like many of the other countries who joined in, stood to make billions of dollars filling the demands for supplies and it was soldiers who dearly paid the price with their lives and now years later, with their health and that of their families.

In 1964, several scientist organizations protested using defoliants.

In 1967, over 5,000 scientists signed a petition asking the government to halt the use of all herbicides in Vietnam. Their efforts were wasted, because the government opted to increase its usage of the chemical until 1970.

Click thumbnails to see all the photos and captions.

1964 - President Nguyen Van Thieu (South Vietnam) and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

1964 - President Nguyen Van Thieu (South Vietnam) and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

1964- General William C. Westmoreland, Commanding General, MACV, watches the ceremonies on the arrival of the Royal Thai Volunteer Regiment in Vietnam.

1964- General William C. Westmoreland, Commanding General, MACV, watches the ceremonies on the arrival of the Royal Thai Volunteer Regiment in Vietnam.

1964 - President Lyndon B. Johnson listens to taped report sent by adviser Captain Charles Robb (his future son-in-law) from Vietnam.

1964 - President Lyndon B. Johnson listens to taped report sent by adviser Captain Charles Robb (his future son-in-law) from Vietnam.

1965 Arrival of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile) in Vietnam. The 15,800 men, 424 Helicopters and Planes disembarked from troopship carriers at Qui Nhon and then immediately moved inland by air and convoy to their assigned tactical operation

1965 Arrival of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile) in Vietnam. The 15,800 men, 424 Helicopters and Planes disembarked from troopship carriers at Qui Nhon and then immediately moved inland by air and convoy to their assigned tactical operation

55 gallon drums of Agent Orange would number into the hundreds of thousands that sorties would spray over Vietnam devastating humans and vegetation alike.

55 gallon drums of Agent Orange would number into the hundreds of thousands that sorties would spray over Vietnam devastating humans and vegetation alike.

A Viet Cong soldier crouches in a bunker with an SKS rifle.

A Viet Cong soldier crouches in a bunker with an SKS rifle.

Operation "Oregon," a search and destroy mission conducted by an infantry platoon of Troop B, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), three kilometers west of Duc Pho, Quang Ngai Province.

Operation "Oregon," a search and destroy mission conducted by an infantry platoon of Troop B, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), three kilometers west of Duc Pho, Quang Ngai Province.

Dak To in South Vietnam. An infantry patrol moves up to assault a Viet Cong position after an attempted overrun of the artillery position by the Viet Cong during Operation Hawthorne.

Dak To in South Vietnam. An infantry patrol moves up to assault a Viet Cong position after an attempted overrun of the artillery position by the Viet Cong during Operation Hawthorne.

UH-1D helicopters airlift members of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment from the Filhol Rubber Plantation area to a new staging area, during Operation "Wahiawa," a search and destroy mission conducted by the 25th Infantry Division

UH-1D helicopters airlift members of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment from the Filhol Rubber Plantation area to a new staging area, during Operation "Wahiawa," a search and destroy mission conducted by the 25th Infantry Division

In Washington D.C. An anti-Vietnam demonstration. U.S. Marshals bodily remove one of the protesters during the outbreak of violence at the Pentagon Building, October 1967.

In Washington D.C. An anti-Vietnam demonstration. U.S. Marshals bodily remove one of the protesters during the outbreak of violence at the Pentagon Building, October 1967.

South Vietnam. A UH-1D Medevac helicopter takes off to pick up an injured member of the 101st Airborn Division, near the demilitarized zone. 10/16/1969.

South Vietnam. A UH-1D Medevac helicopter takes off to pick up an injured member of the 101st Airborn Division, near the demilitarized zone. 10/16/1969.

Soldiers carry a wounded comrade through a swampy area, 1969

Soldiers carry a wounded comrade through a swampy area, 1969

Herbicides by Manufacturer. Both Dow and Monsanto lead the list since they were the major suppliers. Many of the other companies have since been bought by these two, and then closed down. Hiding secrets, I think.

Herbicides by Manufacturer. Both Dow and Monsanto lead the list since they were the major suppliers. Many of the other companies have since been bought by these two, and then closed down. Hiding secrets, I think.

Rainbow Herbicides

The US military tested the "Rainbow Herbicides" and many other chemical defoliants and herbicides in the US, Canada, Puerto Rico, Korea, India, and Thailand from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s:

  • Agent Green: 8208 gallons used
  • Agent Pink: 122,792 gallons
  • Agent Purple: used 145,000 gallons from 1962 to 1965
  • Agent Blue: used 2,166,656 gallons from 1962 to 1971 in both powder and water solution (anti-crop use)
  • Agent White (Tordon 101): with picloram which contaminates water in place of Agent Orange while supplies dwindled, used 5,239,853 gallons from 1966 to 1971.
  • Agent Orange or Herbicide Orange, (HO): used 11,712,860 gallons from 1965 to 1970
  • Agent Orange II: used after 1968.
  • Enhanced Agent Orange, Orange Plus, or Super Orange (SO), or DOW Herbicide M-3393: had picloram, a proprietary DOW Chemical product called Tordon 101, an ingredient of Agent White.

More than 19 million gallons of chemicals were sprayed. Agent Orange is said to have received its name because of the orange stripe on its containers.

Source: wikipedia/Agent Orange

They Knew About Agent Orange's Effects

A 1969 report revealed that the two herbicides making up the formula for Agent Orange could cause birth defects and still births in mice.

In 1970, a team of scientists filed reports after conducting field tests to determine the ecological impact of the herbicide use in Vietnam. Both these reports finally got the government to hold off on using Agent Orange, but only temporarily.

They replaced Agent Orange with Agent White until supplies dwindled down only to be replaced by Agent Blue. The last defoliation spray of Agent White was May 9, 1970 and Operation Ranch Hand's final Agent Blue flight was January 7, 1971. Each Rainbow Agent is discussed in the sidebar.

Some Dow & Monsanto backstory

Dow Chemical and Monsanto both brought a certain expertise to the table which is most likely why they were chosen for the US government contract to supply herbicides for use in Vietnam.

In 1951, Dow Chemical had already created a formula for a Super Agent Orange which included dioxin (2.4.5-T) and they supplied the Vietnam War with napalm from 1965 to 1973.

From 1954 onward, Monsanto had a steady supply of the 2.4.5-T, the chemical needed to create Agent Orange, as well as a number of other herbicides.

Monsanto dabbled in other products before settling on herbicides, insecticides and GMO seeds. Monsanto's background had initially been in plastics, PCB's, polyurethane (rubber, foam, shellac), synthetic fibers, and saccharin which was under scrutiny due to lawsuits regarding bladder cancer.

  • Author Note: I thought about writing about the dangers of sugar substitutes, aspartame and saccharin, but after writing this hub, the Monsanto Company sickens me and i really don't want to give them any added mentions that will get picked up by search engines to give them more recognition.

In 1944, along with 15 other companies, they manufactured DDT, an insecticide used against malaria carrying mosquitoes, which was later banned in 1972.

In 1946, they developed "All Laundry Detergent" (later sold to Lever Brothers). One can only imagine the harmful ingredients in that product.

In 1954 Monsanto partnered with Bayer (the aspirin company) to create The Mobay Corporation. The intention was to manufacture polyurethanes (foam, plastics, shellac). Mobay was Monsanto's major supplier of dioxin-contaminated 2,4,5-T, the chief ingredient of Agent Orange.

During another war, the US government requested Mobay to supply them with the deadly chemical Sarin in 2000, which they refused.

In 1965, Monsanto invented Astro Turf, which had its own bad press attached to it due to the chemicals involved in its creation.

Since 1982, Monsanto's interest has been centered on genetically modified crops. Up until then, their interest was in Seeds of all kinds, insecticides and herbicides, which was the lead-up to the 1970 invention of Roundup, the product used to make seeds resistant to herbicides. If you use it on your lawn or sidewalks to get rid of weeds, read the label. If you don't know what half of that stuff is, then live with the weeds and save your life from ingesting just the fumes of the chemical.

The US Government's Reason For Choosing Multiple Suppliers

Not only did the US need them, but each of the companies needed each other for the products they had access to, so they could create bigger and better products to fill the US government's order. While the USA ordered a herbicide, what they got was a rainbow of over 100 herbicides.

Reporter says US inadvertently unleashed Agent Orange. They very well knew what it was and what it could do as can be seen from reading historical info on websi

Health Effects From Agent Orange Exposure

Effects of Agent Orange - patients from both Vietnam vs. US

Effects of Agent Orange - patients from both Vietnam vs. US

Warning

Some readers may find the following photographs disturbing. I apologize, but they are necessary to tell the story.

Click thumbnails to view: How Agent Orange Affected both Americans & Vietnamese Through Several Generations

birth defects

birth defects

born with no arms

born with no arms

birth defects

birth defects

birth defects

birth defects

Spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam

Spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam

Admiral Elmo Zumwalt 2nd who ordered spraying Agent Orange in area where his son was on tour. His son Elmo 3rd died from the effects of agent orange.

Admiral Elmo Zumwalt 2nd who ordered spraying Agent Orange in area where his son was on tour. His son Elmo 3rd died from the effects of agent orange.

With all that you have read, don't you think that protesters have a right to picket to bring awareness?  I do.

With all that you have read, don't you think that protesters have a right to picket to bring awareness? I do.

3rd generation- born with no eyes or no eye sockets

3rd generation- born with no eyes or no eye sockets

What Diseases Are Recognized

The US Department of Veteran Affairs, also called The Veterans Administration, recognizes this list of diseases as possibly qualifying for benefits as a result of exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides while serving in the military.

This is the list of birth defects as a result of Agent Orange which is recognized by the VA to qualify for benefits.

Agent Orange and Skin Cancer

Agent Orange and Multiple Myeloma

Agent Orange and Hodgkin's Disease

Agent Orange and non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

The Vietnam War - US Veterans' Stories

Agent Orange and Chronic B-Cell Leukemias

Agent Orange and Respiratory Cancers

Vietnam Memorials and Museum List

Biographies

Veterans turned down for disability

This war had been a very long war and a very expensive war, the expense of which the United States did not recover before jumping headlong into another war within 5 years, this time in Iran. The patriotic theme Americans were well known for truly abandoned the Vietnam veteran.

US soldiers returning from war met with a terrible reception from their fellow Americans. Because of the devastating nightly news reports showing full villages being annihilated, soldiers were called "Baby killers."

The 1970s was a time when many Americans were protesting the US involvement in that war in the first place. When veterans came home, there was no ticker tape parade like the ones that welcomed soldiers home from World War I and II.

To add insult to injury, they also arrived home in the middle of a recession (the government didn't dare say the country was in a "depression") to where there were little or no jobs for the "Hire a Vet" program that was usually government-sponsored at the end of every war. No jobs meant no medical benefits to rely on.

When thousands of returning soldiers sought medical help for post traumatic symptoms of flashbacks, nightmares and day-mares, they were told it was all in their heads or illnesses had some other underlying cause. Trying to recover from the expense of war, taxes were raised and the government was cutting every social, health and welfare program across the board and that also included services from the VA. If they denied their illnesses were ever service related, these veterans would not qualify for Social Security disability when they chose to apply for benefits. And they did.

Within two years, soldiers had developed fast growing cancers, respiratory and heart problems, and applied for Social Security disability, starting in 1977.

Every Social Security Disability application was denied when they sought validation from the Veterans Administration, that their illnesses were service related. The VA said they would not acknowledge that they were, which trickled down to more cost saving measures for the US.

It meant that the government did not have to pay to support them for the rest of their lives with a government check.

By that time, many veterans and their families had networked together and came to realize they all had something in common with their illnesses and those of their children. They were all exposed in one manner or another to Agent Orange, either by breathing it or having direct touch contact with transporting or handling, while patrolling or on missions in the jungles of Vietnam or during flying missions on Operation Ranch Hand, which was a US military operation lasting from 1961 to 1973.

In ten years, the planes that were re-used in civilian life held the remnants of Agent Orange so that people who had no contact with war or were related to the veterans were also coming down with the same diseases. Just from riding in the planes all those years later.

Living With Effects Of Agent Orange Today

For many veterans and their families as well as many Vietnamese and their descendants, Agent Orange is present in their every day life, as much as it was 40 years ago during wartime, because they are still living with the afterlife of the herbicide containing dioxin, a carcinogen harmful to all living things.

From the various reports I have been reading, it seems that the Vietnamese made the disease connection and knew far earlier than US veterans of the toxic effects of Agent Orange.

It wasn't until 1979 that Jerry and Sandy Strait (who wrote in January 2010 on the linked website) learned from a TV interview with Maude DeVictor about the many young vets who were dying of cancer.

Not PSTD, not suicide, but cancer. All because they were exposed to a carcinogen that will follow them for generations.

A footnote: Since 1993, the Veterans Administration said it will extend health care to any veteran who cannot pay for his medical needs, whether the problem came from wartime or after.

Nearly 20 years later. Can you imagine coming home from war in 1975, trying to get disability from the country you protected and not succeeding until 1993?

By that time, many veterans had died.

With benefits a long way off, veterans decided to go after another entity who had a big part in the Agent Orange debacle. They decided to sue the companies who made Agent Orange. Monsanto and Dow Chemical.