Part II of our veterans’ exposure to herbicides during the Vietnam War
ARMY EXPERIMENTS WITH DEFOLIANTS
The Army continued to experiment with 2,4-D during the 1950s and late in the decade found a potent combination of chemicals which quickly found its way into the Army's chemical arsenal. Army scientists found that by mixing 2,4-D and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) and spraying it on plants, there would be an almost immediate negative effect on the foliage. What they didn't realize, or chose to ignore, was that 2,4,5-T contained dioxin, a useless by-product of herbicide production. It would be twenty more years until concern was raised about dioxin, a chemical the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would later call "one of the most perplexing and potentially dangerous" known to man. After minimal experimentation in 1961, a variety of chemical agents was shipped to Vietnam to aid in anti-guerilla efforts. The chemicals were to be used to destroy food sources and eliminate foliage that concealed enemy troop movements.
The various chemicals were labeled by color-coded stripes on the barrels, an arsenal of herbicides known by the colors of the rainbow, including Agent Blue (which contained arsenic), Agent White, Agent Purple, and the lethal combination of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T - Agent Orange.
On January 13, 1962, three U.S. Air Force C-123s left Tan Son Nhut airfield to begin Operation Hades (later called Operation Ranch Hand), the defoliation of portions of South Vietnam's heavily forested countryside in which Viet Cong guerrillas could easily hide. By September, 1962, the spraying program had intensified, despite an early lack of success, as U.S. officials targeted the Ca Mau Peninsula, a scene of heavy communist activity. Ranch Hand aircraft sprayed more than 9,000 acres of mangrove forests there, defoliating approximately 95 percent of the targeted area. That mission was deemed a success and full approval was given for continuation of Operation Ranch Hand as the U.S. stepped up its involvement in Vietnam.
SIX TO TWENTY-FIVE TIMES STRONGER THAN RECOMMENDED
Over the next nine years, an estimated 12 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed throughout Vietnam. The U.S. military command in Vietnam insisted publicly the defoliation program was militarily successful and had little adverse impact on the economy of the villagers who came into contact with it.
Although the herbicides were widely used in the United States, they usually were heavily diluted with water or oil. In Vietnam, military applications were sprayed at the rate of three gallons per acre and contained approximately 12 pounds of 2,4-D and 13.8 pounds of 2,3,5-T. The military sprayed herbicides in Vietnam six to 25 times the rate suggested by the manufacturer.
In 1962, 15,000 gallons of herbicide were sprayed throughout Vietnam. The following year that amount nearly quadrupled, as 59,000 gallons of chemicals were poured into the forests and streams. The amounts increased significantly after that: 175,000 gallons in 1964, 621,000 gallons in 1965 and 2.28 million gallons in 1966.