During the Vietnam War, the U.S. and the UK sprayed more than 20-million gallons of the herbicide Agent Orange over eastern Laos, Cambodia and communist-held Vietnam. Intended to remove the forest cover that sheltered the Vietcong guerrillas and to make food growth impossible across the countryside, the policy led to widespread famine, death and long-term health problems for Southeast Asians.
Contamination of the 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid — which serves as the active chemical in Agent Orange — with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin, a highly toxic dioxin derivative, led to soil and water contaminations hundreds of times greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards. This, in turn, led to an estimated 400,000 people being maimed or killed, and an additional 500,000 children being born with birth defects, per Vietnamese estimates.
Of the three-million Americans that served in the military during the Vietnam War, a large number came in contact with Agent Orange. Veterans returning from the war started to report psychological symptoms, birth defects in their offspring, skin rashes, cancer and a wide swathe of other health problems.