Thursday, August 5, 2021

How the CDC Betrayed Victims of Agent Orange


courtesy of Patty Fisher of Ohio, via Paul Sutton

There are few things in this world with the long-term toxicity of Agent Orange, the chemical herbicide used in Vietnam. Polonium-210 in a cup of tea will kill you – just ask former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko – but, unlike Agent Orange, its damage isn’t generational.

For the uninitiated, Agent Orange is the moniker given to the “mixture of butoxyethanol esters of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T).”1 It was a nasty chemical compound manufactured primarily by Dow Chemical and Monsanto (and others) at the instructions of the United States government during the Vietnam war.

From 1962 to 1971, the US Air Force sprayed at least 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam. The purpose of Agent Orange, primarily distributed through Operation Ranch Hand, was defoliation to improve visibility for military operations and the destruction of enemy food supplies. It was mostly sprayed by plane, although it was also sprayed through helicopters, truck, boat, and backpacks to clear foliage around bases and landing zones.

What made Agent Orange so dangerous was that during production, a dangerous byproduct formed: dioxin TCDD, a chemical so toxic it damages is calculated not in years but in decades or even centuries.

Dow Chemical and Monsanto knew the risks of Agent Orange and dioxin. In 1965, scientists from four rival chemical companies met at Dow Chemical to discuss the “health hazards of dioxin.” By then, the companies had been manufacturing Agent Orange and other defoliants for the US war in Vietnam. It was agreed upon at this meeting that the toxicity of Agent Orange – which caused “severe” liver damage in animal subjects – would have to remain a secret because the situation might “explode” and “generate a new wave of government regulation for the chemical industry.”


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