CORPUS CHRISTI —
Despite its name, Agent Orange was not orange. It was colorless and
odorless, a chemical weapon that had a real effect on military
operations in Vietnam.
It also was unpopular.
Between 1962 and 1971, the Air Force dropped an estimated 19 million
gallons of herbicides — of which about 11 million gallons was Agent
Orange — on about 6 million acres of ground primarily in South Vietnam
and in limited areas of Laos.
The Air Force notes that in some cases, an acre may have been sprayed up to three times.
The military purpose of defoliants was to kill the jungle and deprive
the enemy of cover and concealment, and the operation to apply them was
named "Ranch Hand."
The Air Force said the defoliants also were used on a limited basis to kill food crops.
Developed by several companies in the United States at the request of
the government, the defoliants also were called the "Rainbow
Herbicides" because they were stored in drums painted with different
colored bands to denote the different mixtures.
Agent Orange was the most popular, a toxic mix of two chemicals —
2,4-D and 2,4,5-T — both useful in killing and discouraging future
growth of broad-leaved plants.
The presence of cancer-causing dioxin in 2,4,5-T gave raise to
concerns in later years, and Agent Orange eventually was removed from
the federal government's list of approved herbicides in 1985.