by Kimberly Allen R.N.
During the Vietnam war the US government decided to use “tactical herbicides” to destroy the foliage of the thick forests that provided cover for the enemy. The special blend of herbicides was called Agent Orange. During 1962 to 1971 the government sprayed more than 20 million gallons of different herbicides during “Operation Ranch Hand” but agent orange was by far the most common. Some areas were sprayed more heavily than others. By the end of “Operation Ranch Hand” over 20% of the forests of South Vietnam had been sprayed at least once, many places had been sprayed multiple times. The thing is not only did they spray forests but almost half of the 6,542 spraying missions were on farm land and crops forcing the farmers in the area to flee to cities that were controlled by the US.
The Chemical make up of agent orange is an equal mix of 2 phenoxyl herbicides, 2,4 dichlorophenoxyacetic acid or 2, 4 D and 2,4, 5-trichlorophenoxylacetic acid or 2,4,5-T. Even before agent orange there was significant evidence linking the 2,4,5-T to significant adverse health effects as well as ecological damage. Then towards the end of “Operation Ranch Hand” the government revealed that the 2,4,5-T had been contaminated with a type of dioxin. The particular type of dioxin known as TCDD has been described as “perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man” What makes the news even more disturbing is that the government knew of the contamination long before Operation Ranch Hand ever began and did not take any precautions. In fact they told the soldiers that it was harmless to humans, that they didn’t need to worry.
The adverse health effects of agent orange affects not only the Vietnamese people living in areas sprayed but many US veterans serving in Vietnam. That’s alot of lives affected not just foliage and crops. According to the Vietnam Red Cross at least 3 million Vietnamese people have been affected by agent orange , approximately half of which are children that were born with birth defects. The number of veterans exposed is also very high as there were over 28 US military bases where the agent orange was stored so pretty much everyone on those bases were exposed in addition to all the soldiers that were in the fields and on the waterways. The effects of the dioxin in the agent orange are persistent and long lasting. In fact to this day on several bases where agent orange was stored still test positive for dioxin levels at 350 times higher than the level recommended for action internationally. So the health risks continue and will continue for several years.
The list of health issues that exposure to dioxin, the chemical that contaminated agent orange, is extensive and includes various cancers like both Hodgkin’s and Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma as well as numerous types of leukemia. There have also been several neurological conditions associated with exposure including Parkinson’s, ALS and both acute and sub acute peripheral neuropathy. There are other diseases as well that have been associated with exposure to agent orange including type 2 diabetes and heart disease to name a few. Children of veterans exposed to agent orange are also at risk for developing many of the same diseases the most common being the leukemia’s and birth defects.
If you or one of your parents was exposed to agent orange it’s important to make your Dr aware because of the potential for developing numerous health conditions. Your Dr may want to set up a particular screening schedule to monitor for certain conditions. Numerous experts also state that avoiding risky behavior including heavy alcohol consumption and smoking as well as living a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing adverse health issues. They recommend a healthy diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, low fat or no fat dairy, less red meat and refined sugars as well as preservatives. And of course exercise! Exercise improves your body’s ability to fight disease and improves muscle strength including the heart muscle.
If you are concerned about agent orange exposure there are numerous support groups available and the VA has set up clinics specific for victims of agent orange exposure. You can find the clinic nearest you by visiting the association of Occupational and environmental Clinics at www.aoec.org.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.