Different herbicides and defoliants were used during the Vietnam War. The one most
referred to is Agent Orange. This name derived from the 55 gallon drum it came in,
identified with an Orange band around the drum. There were also:
– Agent Purple: 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T; used between January 1962 and 1964.
– Agent Pink: 2,4,5-T; used between 1962 and 1964.
– Agent Green: 2,4,5-T; used between 1962 and 1964.
– Agent White: Picloram and 2,4-D.
– Agent Blue: contained cacodylic acid (arsenic).
Of course the one mostly referred to is:
– Agent Orange: 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T; used between January 1965 and April
– Agent Orange II (Super Orange): 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T; used in 1968 and 1969.
These Agents were used by the U.S. Military as part of its herbicidal warfare program,
Operation Ranch Hand, they sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5
million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972.
The heaviest spraying from aircraft in Vietnam occurred during the years 1967, 1968
and 1969. There were often occasions when troops wearing backpack spraying units
were also spraying weeds along roadsides, around camp sites and company areas. Land
Rover mounted units and helicopter units were also used around Nui Dat in various
Agent Orange has been controversial in New Zealand, because of the exposure of New
Zealand troops in Vietnam and because of the production of Agent Orange for Vietnam
and other users at the Ivon Watkins-Dow chemical plant in Paritutu, New Plymouth. In
New Zealand there have been continuing claims, as yet unproven, that the suburb of
Paritutu has also been polluted. There are cases of New Zealand soldiers who served in
Vietnam with developing cancers such as bone cancer but none has been scientifically
connected to exposure to herbicides.
U.S. aircraft were deployed to spray the agents over jungle areas, around roads, rivers,
canals and military bases, as well as on crops that were suspected to be used to supply
enemy troops. During this process, crops and water sources used by the population were
also hit. Remember, in all more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million
acres of land.
During 1968 the spraying in the Phouc Tuy province was so frequent that we at most
times didn’t recognise craft flying in our area spraying the jungle. Recognition eventually
came only if the craft was directly overhead and you became covered in the spray or if
the craft was so close that you took some cover before you were sprayed.
Through studies done on laboratory animals, dioxin has been shown to be highly toxic
even in minute doses; human exposure to the chemical could be associated with serious
health issues such as muscular dysfunction, inflammation, birth defects, nervous system
disorders and even the development of various cancers.
Currently the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has listed prostate cancer, respiratory
cancers, multiple myeloma, type II diabetes mellitus, Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, peripheral
neuropathy, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, and spina bifida in children of veterans
exposed to Agent Orange as conditions associated with exposure to the herbicide. This
list now includes B cell leukaemia’s, such as hairy cell leukaemia, Parkinson's disease
and ischemic heart disease, these last three having been added on August 31, 2010.
In New Zealand Veterans Affairs list includes prostate cancer, respiratory cancers (lung,
bronchus, larynx, trachea), multiple myeloma, type 2 diabetes, non-Hodgkin’s
lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, soft-tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda,
acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (including
hairy-cell leukaemia and other chronic B –Cell leukaemia’s), Parkinson’s disease and
ischaemic heart disease, Hypertension, AL-type primary amyloidosis and stroke.
The lists are identical except the NZ list does not cover spina bifida in children but also
includes cover for Hypertension, AL-type primary amyloidosis and stroke.
In June 2011, a ceremony was held at Da Nang airport to mark the start of US-funded
decontamination of dioxin hotspots in Vietnam, us$32m had been allocated by the US
Congress to fund the program.
A us$43m project began in the summer of 2012, as Vietnam and the US force gain
closer ties in trade.