Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Agent Orange

Vietnam. Defoliation Mission. A UH-1D helicopter from the 336th Aviation Company sprays a defoliation agent on a dense jungle area in the Mekong delta., July 26, 1969

Agent Orange and "Super Orange" were the nicknames given to a herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S. military in its Herbicidal Warfare program during the Vietnam War.
Agent Orange was used from 1961 to 1971, and was by far the most used of the so-called "rainbow herbicides" utilized during the program. Degradation of Agent Orange (as well as Agents Purple, Pink, and Green) released dioxins, which have caused harm to the health of those exposed during the Vietnam War. Agents Blue and White were part of the same program but did not contain dioxins.
Studies of populations highly exposed to dioxin, though not necessarily Agent Orange, indicate increased risk of various types of cancer and genetic defects; the effect of long-term low-level exposure has not been established.
Since the 1980s, several lawsuits have been filed against the companies who produced Agent Orange, among them being Dow Chemical, Monsanto and Diamond Shamrock (produced only 5% ). U.S. veterans obtained a $180 million settlement in 1984, most affected veterans receiving a one-time lump sum payment of $1,200. American veterans of the war on Vietnam were seeking recognition of Agent Orange, compensation and treatment for maladies that they and their children suffered from; many Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange have not been able to receive promised medical care through the VA medical system and only with rare exception have their affected children received healthcare assistance from the government. Vietnam veterans and their families who brought the original Agent Orange lawsuit stated 25 years ago that the government "is just waiting for us all to die". They alleged that most of those still alive will succumb to the effects of toxic exposure over the next several years, before age 65. Elsewhere, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand veterans obtained compensation in an out-of-court settlement that same year. In 1999, South Korean veterans filed a lawsuit in Korea; in January 2006, the Korean Appeal Court ordered Monsanto and Dow to pay $62 million in compensation. However, no Vietnamese have obtained compensation, and on March 10, 2005 Judge Jack Weinstein of Brooklyn Federal Court dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange against the chemical companies that produced the defoliants/herbicides.

Agent Orange, given its name from the 55 US gallon orange-striped barrels it was shipped in, is a roughly 1:1 mixture of two phenoxy herbicides in ester form, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T). These herbicides were developed during the 1940s by independent teams in England and the United States for use in controlling broad-leaf plants. Phenoxy agents work by mimicking a plant growth hormone, indoleacetic acid (IAA). When sprayed on broad-leaf plants they induce rapid, uncontrolled growth, eventually defoliating them. When sprayed on crops such as wheat or corn, it selectively kills just the broad-leaf plants in the field - the weeds - leaving the crop relatively unaffected. First introduced in 1946, these herbicides were in widespread use in agriculture by the middle of the 1950s and was first introduced in the agricultural farms of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
At the time Agent Orange was sold to the U.S. government for use in Vietnam, internal memos of its manufacturers reveal it was known that a dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD), is produced as a byproduct of the manufacture of 2,4,5-T, and was thus present in any of the herbicides that used it. The National Toxicology Program has classified TCDD to be a human carcinogen, frequently associated with soft-tissue sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). 2,4,5-T has since been banned for use in the US and many other countries.
Although the herbicide 2,4-D does not contain dioxin, its impact on health and environment has not been thoroughly studied, and it remains one of the most-used herbicides in the world today.
Diseases associated with dioxin, again not necessarily Agent Orange, exposure are chloracne, soft tissue sarcomas, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A link has also been found to diabetes, in a study by the Institute of Medicine. Diseases with limited evidence of an association with Agent Orange are respiratory cancers, prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, Porphyria cutanea tarda (a type of skin disease), acute and subacute transient peripheral neuropathy, spina bifida, Type 2 diabetes, and acute myelogenous leukemia found only in the second or third generation. Diseases with inadequate or insufficient evidence of an association are hepatobiliary cancers, nasal or nasopharyngeal cancers, bone cancer, female reproductive cancers, renal cancer, testicular cancer, leukemia, spontaneous abortion, birth defects, neonatal or infant death and stillbirths, low birth weight, childhood cancers, abnormal sperm parameters, cognitive neuropsychiatric disorders, ataxia, peripheral nervous system disorders, circulatory disorders, respiratory disorders, skin cancers, urinary and bladder cancer. Diseases with limited or suggestive evidence of no association are gastrointestinal tumors such as stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer, and brain tumors.
Agent orange is currently used in the United States as a defoliant for cotton before it is harvested. Therefore it is found in small amounts in cottonseed oil, which is not regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Cottonseed oil is a cheap oil that is commonly used by snack chip manufacturers.

Use Outside of Vietnam
In September 2000, the United States Veteran's Association (VA) recognized that Agent Orange was used in Korea in the late 1960s. Republic of Korea troops are reported to have done the spraying, which occurred along the DMZ with North Korea. The VA has also acknowledged that Agent Orange was used domestically by U.S. forces, as well as in Canada during the same time period

Effects of the program
The New Jersey Agent Orange Commission
In 1980, New Jersey created the New Jersey Agent Orange Commission, the first state commission created to study its effects. The Commission's research project in association with Rutgers University was called "The Pointman Project". It was disbanded by governor Christine Todd Whitman in 1996. New York Times, 3 July 1996.
During Pointman I, Commission researchers devised ways to determine small dioxin levels in blood. Prior to this, such levels could only be found in the adipose (fat) tissue. The project compared dioxin levels in a small group of Vietnam veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange with a group of matched veterans who had not served in Vietnam. The results of this project were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1988. (Vol. 259 No. 11, 18 March 1988).
The second phase of the project continued to examine and compare dioxin levels in various groups of Vietnam veterans including Army, Marines and brown water riverboat Navy personnel. In addition, the Commission was the only agency to examine such levels in women who served in Vietnam.

In 1984, Agent Orange manufacturers paid Australian, Canadian and New Zealand veterans in an out-of-court settlement.

U.S. Vietnamese victims class action lawsuit
On January 31, 2004, a victim's rights group, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA), filed a lawsuit in a US Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York, against several US companies, for liability in causing personal injury, by developing and producing the chemical. Dow Chemical and Monsanto were the two largest producers of Agent Orange for the US military, and were named in the suit along with the dozens of other companies (Diamond Shamrock, Uniroyal, Thompson Chemicals, Hercules, etc.). A number of lawsuits by American GIs were settled out of court - without admission of liability by the chemical companies - in the years since the Vietnam War. In 1984, some chemical companies that manufactured Agent Orange paid $180 million into a fund for United States veterans following a lawsuit.
On March 10, 2005, the District Court judge Jack Weinstein - who had defended the US veterans victims of Agent Orange - dismissed the suit, ruling that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs' claims. The judge concluded that Agent Orange was not considered a poison under international law at the time of its use by the US; that the US was not prohibited from using it as an herbicide; and that the companies which produced the substance were not liable for the method of its use by the government. The US government is not a party in the lawsuit, claiming sovereign immunity.

On September 30, 2005, the Vietnamese victims lodged an appeal in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals; it is expected that the Court of Appeals will hold an oral argument sometime in Fall 2006. At this point the appeal is focused on whether or not the case will be reinstated and go to trial.

In order to assist those who have been impacted by Agent Orange/Dioxin, the Vietnamese have established "Peace villages", which each host between 50 to 100 victims, giving them medical and psychological help. As of 2006, there were 11 such Peace villages, thus granting some social protection to fewer than a thousand victims. US veterans of the war in Vietnam, NGOs and individuals who are aware and sympathetic to the impacts of Agent Orange have also supported these programs in Vietnam. An international group of Veterans from the US and its allies during the Vietnam war working together with their former enemy - veterans from the Vietnam Veterans Association - established the Vietnam Friendship Village located outside of Hanoi. The center provides medical care, rehabilitation and vocational training for children and veterans from Vietnam who have been impacted by Agent Orange.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs has listed prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, type II diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, peripheral neuropathy, and spina bifida in children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange as side effects of the herbicide.

South Korean lawsuit
In 1999, about 20,000 South Koreans filed two separated lawsuits against US companies, seeking more than $5 billion in damages. After losing a decision in 2002, they filed an appeal. In January 2006, the South Korean Appeals Court ordered Dow Chemical and Monsanto to pay $62 million in compensation to about 6,800 people. The ruling acknowledged that "the defendants failed to ensure safety as the defoliants manufactured by the defendants had higher levels of dioxins than standard", and, quoting the U. S. National Academy of Science report, declared that there was a "causal relationship" between Agent Orange and 11 diseases, including cancers of the lung, larynx and prostate. However, the judges failed to acknowledge "the relationship between the chemical and peripheral neuropathy, the disease most widespread among Agent Orange victims" according to the Mercury News.

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