The following information was compiled in 1979. It was
designed to bring an awareness of AGENT ORANGE and related herbicides to
the American public.
Herbicides were developed during the Second World War,
initial work being done at the University of Chicago and later moved to
Fort Detrick, Maryland. Although they were first considered for military
use at the end of the War in the Pacific, the first application (of 2-4-D)
was for domestic weed control in the US.
The first recorded military use took place in Malaysia
in the 1950s where the British used 2-4-5-T to clear communication routes.
The first US field tests were conducted in Puerto Rico, Texas, and Fort
Drum in New York (1959).
In 1960 the South Vietnamese government requested that
the U.S. government conduct trials of these herbicides for use against
guerrilla forces. Further tests were conducted in Thailand by Fort Detrick
personnel before the chemicals were given to the RVN.
The herbicides involved were known by their code names,
Orange, White and Blue. There were several others, such as Purple.
AGENT ORANGE is a 1-124-1 mixture by weight of the
n-butyl esters of 2-4-5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2-4-5-T) and
2-4-dichloro-phenoxyacetic acid (2-4-D).
Agent White is a 3-882-1 mixture by weight of tri-iso-propanolamine
salts of 2-4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2-4-D) and 4-amino
3-5-6-trichloropicolinic acid (pico-lorum).
Agent Blue is a 2-663-1 mixture by weight of
na-dimethyl arsenate (na cacodylate) and dimethyl arsenic (cacodylic
Orange and White are used as defoliants and Agent Blue
as a desiccant.
Agent Blue was produced by Ansul Chemical Company which
has divested itself of this line prior to selling the company. Agents
Orange and White are still being produced. The most widely produced and
dispensed of the herbicides in both Vietnam and the U.S. is AGENT ORANGE
(2-4-5-T and 2-4-D).
Adverse effects of the chemical 2-4-5-T and its
chemical precursors on the workers engaged in their production had been
observed as early as 1949. At that time a Monsanto-owned plant
manufacturing 2-4-5-T in Nitro, West Virginia, had an explosion, and 228
workers developed Chloracne.
Chloracne symptoms include skin eruptions on the face,
neck, and back, shortness of breath, intolerance to cold, palpable and
tender liver, a loss of sensation in the extremities, damage to peripheral
nerves, fatigue, nervousness, irritability, insomnia, loss of libido and
Chloracne was also found in 1953 among the male workers
and many of their wives, children and pets at a BASF (Badischer Anilin
& Soda Fabrik)-owned 2-4-5-T plant at Ludwigshaften am Rhein in
The factory experienced an explosion months after the
appearance of Chloracne among the workers. In medical examinations
following the explosion, some workers were found to have severely damaged
internal organs including the liver. Heightened blood pressure, myocardial
degeneration, severe depression, memory and concentration disturbances
were also observed. Fifteen years later some of these workers were still
suffering from Chloracne and its symptoms despite treatment and no
subsequent exposure. One death from intestinal sarcoma was attributed to
In 1963 another explosion occurred in a 2-4-5-T factory
owned by Philips Duphar in Amsterdam, Holland. Fifty workers developed
Chloracne and suffered internal damage and serious psychological
disturbances as a result, and the factory was closed. In 1973 the plant
was still so contaminated with Dioxin that it had to be dismantled,
embedded in concrete, and buried at sea.
Dow Chemical, the largest producer of AGENT ORANGE in
the U.S. experienced an outbreak of Chloracne among its workers in 1964 in
one of their 2-4-5-T manufacturing plants. Over seventy workers were
affected, 12 of them severely.
Dow's director of its Midland Division, Dr. Benjamin
Holder, described the symptoms as fatigue, lassitude, depression,
blackheads (prevalent on the face, neck, and back), and weight loss. Heavy
exposure, Dr. Holder said, could lead to internal organ damage and nervous
In 1970, Julius F. Johnson, Director of Research and
Development, appearing be-fore the Hart Sub-Committee of the U.S.
Congress, described Chloracne as "a skin disorder mostly prevalent of
the face, neck, and back. It is similar in experience to severe acne of
the kind suffered by teenagers".
Dow ran its own study of the effects of ORANGE using
220 workers and 4,600 controls. The range of exposure to 2-4-0 was
30-40/mg/do. Ten of the men were karyotyped, and no rearrangement of
genetic material was reported. The 220 men were exposed to 2-8/mg/do of
2-4-5-T. Fifty two men were karyotyped negatively. No difference between
the study group and the control group was reported.
Dow's testing indicated that a contaminant of 2-4-5-T
(Dioxin) was responsible for the Chloracne and illness experienced by its
workers. They conducted tests utilizing animals on 2-4-5-T with varying
amounts of 2-3-7-8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin.
At levels of 27±8 the chemical was shown to be toxic
and fatal to the animals. Cleft palates were observed in further tests.
The results were not repeated with 2-4-5-T without the contaminant. Dioxin
was found to be one of the most toxic substances known, a fatal dose being
0.022-0.045a in rats and 0.0006 in guinea pigs, LD-50 as milligrams per
Between 1965 and 1969 a 2-4-5-T production plant near
Prague, Czechoslovakia, developed leaks in its processing area. Workers
developed Chloracne and exhibited weight loss, libido diminution and
Maximum symptoms were observed about one to two years
after the initial exposure but lasted over eight years in some of the
exposed workers. Several workers died of severe liver damage, and workers'
families also became sick. Contaminated equipment was buried in a mine
Other studies of workers exposed to 2-4-D and 2-4-5-T
were conducted by Festisov (1966), Long (1969), Poland (1971), Sundell
(1972) and Piper (1973).
These studies showed exposed workers exhibiting
symptoms including fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, stomach and
kidney pain, upper respiratory distress, decreased hearing, smell and
neurological responses, high serum albumin values, skin and eye
irritations and concentrated TCDD (Dioxin) levels in body fat and liver
tissue. The studies inconclusive epidemiological results must be
re-examined in light of their design deficiencies, such as lack of use of
control groups (Festisov, Poland), insufficient follow-up period in a
retrospective study (Sundell) and lack of longitudinal studies which would
provide adequate evidence of temporary and long-range effects (NAS).
Further tests showed TCDD, the contaminant in 2-4-5-T, to be an extremely
toxic agent with a slow effect rate and diverse symptomatology including
edema, necrotic changes of the liver, gastric hyperplasia and ulceration,
hemmoroglus of gastrointestinal tract and other organs, atrophy of the
kidneys, thymus and other lymphoid organs and tissues. Later, symptoms
appear to lead to decreased immune responses.
AGENT ORANGE (contaminated with Dioxin) and Agent White
were authorized for use in Vietnam in November 1961, to improve road and
waterway visibility and clear camp perimeters.
Later, Agent Blue was authorized to destroy crops and
clear areas suspected of harboring enemy base camps or supply routes. The
U.S. Air Force created the 309th Air Commando Squadron to conduct the
spraying. The operation, originally known as Hades, and became known as
Operation Ranch Hand.
In the spring of 1962 the South Vietnamese military
conducted large-scale tests of herbicides along 70 miles of Highway 15. In
the summer, further tests were conducted using 2-4-D at 1.5 gallons/acre
and 2-4-5-T at 3.3 gallons/acre. The herbicides used in Vietnam were
applied mostly by twin engine C-123 Provider Transports (Fairchild Hiller)
equipped with 3785.1 tanks and an internal defoliant dispenser (Hayes
Inter-national) with 36 high-pressure nozzles distributed on three booms.
Normal spray time was two minutes, but a full load
could be dumped in 30 seconds. Missions usually consisted of three to five
aircraft flying in a staggered lateral formation. Single plane runs were
known as sorties. Helicopters, UH-1 Huey (Bell Aerospace), trucks, boats
and hand spraying equipment were also used to dispense the herbicides in
Targets were selected by U.S. or Vietnamese officers,
approved by provincial chiefs, the Vietnamese Army general staff, the U.S.
Military Assistance Command and the American Ambassador.
During this time, Air America also sprayed defoliants
for the CIA in combat operations against Thai insurgents on the Isthmus of
Kra. The drift of herbicides involved in these operations was estimated at
an average of 20%.
AGENT ORANGE, the main herbicide dispensed in this
period, was applied at up to 25 times the rate of use in the U.S. Entire
tank loads were also jettisoned over one area.
Schedules of the herbicide spraying missions were
recorded on HERBS tapes, a computerized record of time, place, geographic
location of beginning, end and flight line of the mission, amount and type
of herbicide and the military purpose of the operation. The tapes cover
the period from August 1965 to February 1971. The HERBS tapes were studied
for accuracy by the NAS Committee, which traveled to Vietnam, and were
found to contain inaccuracies. Even so, they may offer one source to check
individual dose exposure in the period covered when 85% of the missions
As early as 1964, while the spraying was increasing in
Vietnam, reports circulated of increased miscarriages stillbirths and
birth defects among exposed Vietnamese women and animals. Because of the
war conditions collecting data to corroborate this was difficult.
Records from 1970 for Saigon's leading maternity
hospital showed a monthly average of 140 miscarriages and 150 premature
births in 2,800 pregnancies, but the hospital would not disclose whether
or not this was an increase.
In 1966 the U.S. government started studies on the
teratogenic effects of 2-4-5-T. These studies were conducted by Bionetics
Research Laboratories of Bethesda, Maryland, for the National Cancer
The findings were released in 1969. Rats and mice used
in the study were given 21.5 mg/kg doses of 2-4-5-T during early
gestation. Almost all the offspring were born dead or with cleft palates,
no eyes, cystic kidneys and enlarged livers. At 4.6 mg/kg, 39% of the
offspring were born deformed. Based on these findings Dr. Lee Du Bridge,
Presidential Advisor, said that the use of the chemical in populated areas
and on food crops should be restricted.
Dow objected to the findings saying the sample of the
2-4-5-T was used unrepresentatively because of an abnormally high amount
of TCDD (Dioxin). As a result, new tests were ordered by Dr. Burger, Dr.
Du Bridge’s technical assistant, and 2-4-5-T was left in use.
Other tests were run by Dr. Jackie Verett of the FDA
Toxicology Lab in Washington, D.C., Dr. Matthew Meselson of Harvard, the
National Institute. Dr. Verett used a .50 parts per million Dioxin
solution obtained from chemicals used in Vietnam in chicks and found
resultant cysts, necrotic livers, slipped tendons, cleft palates and beak
She then used a .25 parts per trillion solution and
observed the same effects. Further tests of 2-4-D and 2-4-5-T without
Dioxin still produced dead and deformed offspring. English tests had
demonstrated AGENT ORANGE to contain as many as 17 or more contaminates.
Dr. Meselson was the head of an American Association
for Advanced Science project. His concern was Dioxin activity and the
unknown results of its behavior. "The tetrachloro-dioxin re-presents
just one of the 12 or 13 ways the chlorine atoms arrange themselves on a
benzene ring to form Dioxin molecules. How do we know about hexa, hepta
and octychlors or about how persistent the tetrachlor itself is? Moreover,
I am very concerned about the Dioxin that might be formed by unreacted
trichlorphenol (2-4-5-T’s precursor) when the product is exposed to
heat. If it were taken up by plants or wood and these were burned, you’d
get more Dioxin. Finally, I’m bothered by the bizarre mental effects
suffered by German workers making 2-4-5-T. I say, when in doubt, stop
The National Institute of Environmental Health
Ser-vices Study used samples of 2-4-5-T which were far less contaminated
with Dioxin than the 2-4-5-T used in the Bionetics Study. The results
showed 2-4-5-T to have significant teratogenic effects on the study of
Based on this study, on April 15, 1970, Dr. Jesse L.
Steinfield, Surgeon General, and David Packard, Secretary of Defense,
announced government action limiting the use of 2-4-5-T in the U.S. and
suspending its use in Vietnam.
The National Cancer Study conducted by Courtney showed
2-4-5-T adversely affecting the development and viability of mouse and rat
"I suggest that the teratogenicity of 2-4-5-T is
such that even its use in such apparently innocuous domestic matters as
clearing brush near power lines is undesirable. Such chemicals could find
their way into water supplies and could be ingested in teratogenic-doses",
(statement of Dr. Arthur Galston, Yale University, December, 1969, to the
Sub-Committee on National Security Policy and Scientific Development of
the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives).
Autopsies of 600 reindeer in northern Sweden which had
consumed foliage sprayed with AGENT ORANGE showed a significant residue of
the herbicide in the kidneys and liver of the deceased animals.
The Piper Study (1973) also showed Dioxin concentration
in the liver and body fat of exposed workers up to ten times the normal
In 1975 the CDC in Atlanta studied AGENT ORANGE and
issued a report showing that exposed animals suffered appetite loss,
vascular lesions, Chloracne and gastric ulcers.
More recent tests indicate Dioxin may be concentrated
in fatty tissue and released into the blood stream after the initial
exposure. Vietnamese epidemiologists have indicated a four-fold increase
in liver Cancer in Vietnam in the last ten years.
Despite these tests and world-wide evidence of the
effects of AGENT ORANGE, it has remained in use on rice crops in Arkansas,
range land in the West and Southwest, national forests and along railroad
and power lines. In 1973 Matthew Meselson and Dr. Robert Boughman refined
an analytical system for detecting the presence of Dioxin in parts per
trillion instead of billion.
Using their system, they found Dioxin residues in
Vietnamese crustaceans, indicating that Dioxin had entered the food chain
as a result of earlier 2-4-5-T use.
Dow's scientists continued to maintain that 2-4-5-T,
when used as directed, presents inconsequential hazards to the
environment, animals and man.
The evidence shows that AGENT ORANGE was dispensed in
Vietnam in amounts far in excess of previous use; thus, the exposure of
U.S. soldiers and the Vietnamese was not as directed. Soldiers in Vietnam
sprayed one another with AGENT ORANGE in spray fights as they were told
the chemical was harmless.
While U.S. government departments were and were not
dealing with 2-4-5-T, on July 10, 1976, another factory had an explosion.
The factory, located in Seveso, Lombardy, Italy, was owned by ICMESA with
a Swiss parent company.
The explosion produced a cloud of Dioxin which settled
over several adjacent communities. The people exposed became nauseated,
experienced eye and throat irritations, developed burn-like sores on
exposed skin, headaches, dizziness and diarrhea -- the same symptoms
recorded by exposed Vietnamese and Cambodian populations. In the next two
days, small animals in the area began to die. Most of the small animals in
Zone A of the exposed area died or had to be destroyed. Post mortems
showed that they died of Dioxin poisoning and had extensive liver damage.
Because of the publicity on the teratogenicity of
Dioxin, abortions were made available to the exposed women.
Studies of the situation at the ICMESA plant revealed
that Dioxin was probably escaping periodically from the plant over a
two-year period prior to the explosion. Two and a half months after the
explosion, children and young people began to develop Chloracne.
A year later 130 people had confirmed Chloracne. Symp-toms
included nervousness, irritability, loss of appetite and sexual drive.
Spontaneous abortions appeared to double; the level of birth defects could
not be determined because of the abortions. In 1977 it was discovered that
280 children in an area north of the contaminated area were suffering from
Deaths among workers exposed to Dioxin contamination
should be examined, as they are among the earliest exposed, and evidence
indicates delayed onset of fatal chronic conditions.
In 1958 a worker was assigned work on or near the
reactor that was involved in the 1953 explosion in the Badischer Anilin
& Soda Fabrik 2-4-5-T factory. The reactor had not been used since the
explosion, and the worker used protective clothing which included a face
mask. He removed the mask several times during the work. Four days later
he was suffering from headaches and had developed hearing loss and
Chloracne. Within six months he developed pancreatitis and an upper
abdominal tumor. The man died three months later.
Another worker at the same plant who spent two hours
working on the reactor wall in 1958 also developed a severe case of
Chloracne. One year later a large x-ray opaque area appeared on one of his
lungs. Five years after the initial exposure, the worker suffered acute
psychosis and committed suicide.
Two British workers at the Coalite factory in Bolsover,
England, (which had experienced an explosion in 1968) were exposed to
cleaned equipment involved in the explosion three years earlier. Within a
month both developed Chloracne. In the next year members of both their
families also developed Chloracne.
The Philips Duphar plant in Amsterdam had the problem
when workers tried to decontaminate the plant involved in the 1963
explosion six months later.
Although all but one of the workers wore deep-sea
diving suits and industrial facemasks, nine of the men contracted
Chloracne, and three of them died within the next two years. The worker
who was not as well protected was still being treated in 1976 for severe
effects and was unable to work.
Studies of these and other exposed workers’ morbidity
and mortality data would seem essential to construct an overview of the
epidemiology of 2-4-5-T exposure, especially to help establish risk
factors for exposed populations.
Studies in animals are also being conducted. Dr. James
Allen, at the University of Wisconsin, has been running studies on the
effects of dioxin-contaminated food on nonhuman primates. This seems
particularly efficacious in light of recent evidence that rodents often
used in medical research seem to be subject to inherent viruses which
could distort test results.
Dr. Allen's studies with animals indicate that dioxin
persists and accumulates in the tissue of primates. In his rodent studies
Dr. Allen found a significant increase in the development of neoplasms
suggesting the carcinogenic potential of the compound TCDD.
Beef cattle grazing on western ranges sprayed with
2-4-5-T a year earlier were found, in 1974, to have sixty parts per
trillion Dioxin in their fatty tissue, a significant amount.
Dr. Meselson, who has continued his studies at Harvard,
has examined the milk of women exposed to the herbicide in Texas and
Oregon, and the results seemed to indicate the presence of Dioxin in parts
per trillion in some of their milk. Both these results and the cattle
tests indicate that Dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to man,
has entered the human food chain.
The evidence also indicates that the herbicide AGENT
ORANGE (2-4-D + 2-4-5-T + contaminants, especially TCDD) has both
teratogenic and carcinogenic potential for exposed animals and humans. The
teratogenic effects may be checked in cases where pregnant women are
exposed, but evidence in Vietnam indicates that the mother may suffer
chromatine or chromosomal damage following exposure and pass this damage
on to subsequently conceived children. One of the complaints of Vietnam
veterans is the high incidence of birth deformities (including monsters)
present in their children.
Karyotyping should be done on these veterans and their
offspring and all birth defects recorded. (The U.S. has no national
register for recording birth defects.)
The carcinogenic potential of 2-4-5-T, or AGENT ORANGE,
will be harder to ascertain as it involves the development of chronic
disease with diverse symptomatology over an undetermined and lengthy
amount of time.
The symptomatology developed by populations exposed to
AGENT ORANGE and its components, 2-4-D, 2-4-5-T and contaminants, has been
demonstrated around the world over a lengthy period of time. Further
examination of the teratogenic and carcinogenic effects have been
conducted in different animal experiments.
However, no serious epidemiological study has been done
in this country, and the government, for example the VA, has used this to
disclaim causality. The argument used is that there is no scientifically
proven causality, but no one has designed a study to attempt to establish
such a correlation in humans. Dow Chemical, one of the largest producers
of AGENT ORANGE and White, has conducted a considerable amount of
research, especially on the unavoidable contaminant Dioxin in AGENT
Their most recent conclusion revealed by an 18-member
task force after several months of study was that Dioxin is present
everywhere in the environment where combustion occurs, and Dow went on to
argue against zero effluence limits for Dioxins which the EPA and FDA are
Dow still argues that these Dioxin levels are so low as
to be harmless, especially since they are airborne rather than transmitted
through the food chain. The government seems to be moving toward shifting
the burden of proof away from itself to the producers with irrefutable
defense papers. EPA toxicologist, Lyman Condie, says that this
On March 11, 1979, the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) took unprecedented steps against the chemical. In the first such
emergency ban ever, the EPA ordered the immediate halt to most uses of the
herbicide 2, 4,5 T which contains Dioxin, and a similar product used for
weather control known as Silvex.
The emergency suspension action was temporary while
further facts were gathered, but it was the most drastic measure the EPA
could take under the law.
The EPA said it was acting on significant new evidence
linking the herbicide 2, 4, 5-T with miscarriages in women in Oregon.