Agent Orange leaves behind a toxic footprint

By Plain Dealer Staff

The United States began aerial spraying of herbicides in Vietnam in 1962 under Operation Hades, which was later renamed Operation Ranch Hand. The herbicides were color-coded with a stripe around the container. The most notable was Agent Orange.

Today, almost half a century later, the effects of that program are still being felt, both in Vietnam and here in America. The video accompanying this story explains how the program worked and why it presents a problem today.

In addition to aerial spraying from planes and helicopters, soldiers on the ground sprayed Agent Orange on jungle foliage. More than 10 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed before its use was discontinued in 1971.

In small doses, Agent Orange helps plants grow. In large doses, such as those used in the aerial spraying campaign, Agent Orange kills plants at an accelerated rate.

Agent Orange contained the toxic chemical dioxin. Dioxin contaminants were left behind wherever Agent Orange was used and stored. Dixoin seeped into the soil and the water. Exposure to dioxin in large quantities poses health risks.

In 1991 Congress approved the Agent Orange Act and created a list of “presumptive illnesses” for which U.S. Vietnam War veterans could receive government compensation and medical care. The Veterans Administration allows compensation for some birth defects in children, but only for those born to female veterans who served in Vietnam.

The U.S. government does recognize a list of illnesses related to Vietnam veterans’ direct exposure to Agent Orange. Those illnesses include:

Chloracne: A skin disorder more severe than simple acne.

Type 2 diabetes: A chronic disease in which the body cannot process the hormone insulin.

Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkins lymphoma: Cancers that attack the lymph nodes, liver and spleen.

Respiratory cancers: Including lung cancer and cancer of the larynx, trachea and bronchus.

Ischemic heart disease: Reduced flow of blood to the heart.

Multiple myeloma: Cancer of plasma cells in bone marrow.

B-cell leukemia: Cancer that affects white blood cells.

Peripheral neuropathy: Nervous-system disorder causing numbness, tingling and weakness.

Parkinson’s disease: A progressive disease of the nervous system, affecting muscle movement.

Porphyria cutanea tarda: Liver dysfunction, skin blistering.

Prostate cancer


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