Friday, September 2, 2011

Guilty Verdict in Case of Agent Orange

If Dioxin wasn't so dangerous, why the haz-mat suits and why did the government evacuate the town of Times Beach, MO?
by Ed Mattson
Going back to the long history of Agent Orange and its chief component, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), Wednesday I wrote about the original studies of AO by Professor E.J. Kraus, chairman of the school’s botany department, at the University of Chicago during World War II. Among the discoveries he made was that certain broadleaf vegetation could be killed by causing the plants to experience sudden, uncontrolled growth (much in the way cancer tumor growth works in the body).

Though Agent Orange was not adopted by the Department of the Army for use in WWII, it was eventually added to the arsenal in the late 1950’s and used in Vietnam beginning on January 13, 1962, as part of Operation Hades to eliminate foliage that concealed enemy movement and food supplies. Agent Orange was not the only defoliant used however, and the combination of chemicals became known as “The Rainbow Herbicides” including Agent Blue, White, and Purple. Agent Blue added arsenic to the cocktail while White and Purple included other, just as deadly combinations of chemicals. Remarkably, in spite of knowing how deadly these agents were, little training went into the storage, mixing, and handling of these products, and that is where the criminality of anyone making the case against Agent Orange and these toxins should begin.

According to theSampley Report, “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, began in earnest out of Tan Sun Nhut airfield. 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”.

An estimated 12 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed over all areas of vegetation in Vietnam. The military claimed that the physical impact of humans would have little adverse effects. After all, these same herbicides were being used in the United States. In the US however, the commercial use was heavily diluted with water or oil, and mixed in proper concentrations. It is also obvious that more training in the handling of these agents occurred in the US, because in Vietnam, with the constant turnover of personnel, the military allowed applications of six to 25 times the dilution formula suggested by the manufacturer.

Again, according to the Sampley Report, “The pilots who flew these missions became so proficient at their jobs that it would take only a few minutes after reaching their target areas to dump their 1,000-gallon loads before turning for home. Flying over portions of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia that had been sprayed, the pilots could see the effects of their work. Many of them adopted a grim fatalism about the job. Over the door of the ready room for Ranch Hand pilots at Tan Son Nhut Airport near Saigon hung this sign: ‘Only You Can Prevent Forests’.”


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