Essay, Research Paper: Agent Orange

American History

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saying the name Agent Orange gets the attention of every Vietnam veteran, and I
dare say most of the Australian and American public, not to mention the
Vietnamese. It has been argued about, written about, researched and debated,
published in magazines and newspapers, talked about on radio and television. It
was the subject of documentaries, legal battles, and in Australia a Royal
Commission that lasted some two years and cost 3.8 million dollars. Agent Orange
was the code name for a herbicide developed for the military, primarily for use
in tropical climates. Although the genesis of the product goes back to the
1940’s, serious testing for military applications did not begin until the
early 1960’s. The purpose of the product was to deny an enemy cover and
concealment in dense terrain by defoliating trees and shrubbery where the enemy
could hide. The product “Agent Orange” (a code name for the orange band that
was used to mark the drums it was stored in) was principally effective against
broad-leaf foliage, such as the dense jungle-like terrain found in Southeast
Asia. The product was tested in Vietnam in the early 1960’s, and was brought
into ever widening use during the height of the war in 1967-68, though it’s
use was diminished and eventually discontinued in 1971. Agent Orange was a 50-50
mix of two chemicals, known conventionally as 2,4,D and 2,4,5,T. the combined
product was mixed with kerosene or diesel fuel and dispersed by aircraft,
vehicle, and hand spraying. An estimated 19 million gallons of Agent Orange were
used in South Vietnam during the war. The earliest health concerns about Agent
Orange were about the product’s contamination with TCDD, or dioxin. TCDD is
one of a family of dioxins, some found in nature, and are cousins of
dibenzofurans and PCB’s. Dioxin is formed by burning chlorine-based chemical
compounds with hydrocarbons. The major source of dioxin in the environment (95%)
comes from incinerators burning chlorinated wastes. Dioxin pollution is also
affiliated with paper mills, which use chlorine bleaching in their process and
with the production of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastics. The TCDD that can be
found in Agent Orange is thought to be harmful to man. In laboratory tests on
animals, TCDD has caused a wide variety of diseases, many of them fatal. TCDD is
not found in nature, but rather is a man-made and is always an unwanted
byproduct of the chemical process of manufacturing of certain herbicides,
bactericides, wood preservatives, and other products. It is believed by many
scientists to be the most toxic of all synthetic chemicals. It was first
identified as a contaminant in 1957, but not recognized as a major public hazard
until the mid 1970’s. The Agent Orange used in Vietnam was later found to be
extremely contaminated with TCDD. The Agent Orange in Vietnam was contaminated
in amounts from 0.05 to almost 50 parts per million, with the most common
contamination being 2 parts per million (ppm). This contamination resulted in an
estimated 368 pounds of dioxin sprayed over Vietnam in a six-year period.

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