The use of Agent Orange in Viet Nam during the 1960s and 1970s is a
notorious example of widespread and purposeful environmental damage that
has subsequently impacted the health of troops and civilians. Less well
known is the role that the UK played in developing Agent Orange based
herbicides, which included deploying them in Malaysia in the 1950s. Andy Garrity investigates.
The use of Agent Orange (AO) in Viet Nam by the US military in the
1960s and 70s is a well documented case of deliberate environmental
destruction. The use of AO herbicides was intended to remove forest
cover but resulted in unintended health impacts. Its use eventually
helped lead to the creation of the Environmental Modification Techniques
Convention (ENMOD). It has also resulted in the payment of compensation
to US veterans whose health was affected by exposure to dioxin from the
AO use continues to be closely associated with the US but the role
of Britain’s scientists and military in developing, testing and
deploying 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) in a mixture
identical to Agent Orange is less well known.
Agent Orange: A British invention
Britain was the first country to use 2,4,5-T in a military capacity,
helping establish a precedent for the US to use the same potently toxic
substance in Viet Nam, albeit on a much larger scale. The British
government assisted the US’s development of AO amid the rush for
effective defoliants and herbicides for use in tropical environments,
sharing research and expertise following WWII.