Saturday, May 03, 2014

Agent Orange

Chilling Legacy Of US Chemical Warfare In Vietnam

Agent Orange or Herbicide Orange (HO) is one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the British military during theMalayan Emergency and the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand,[1] during theVietnam War from 1961 to 1971.[2] It was a mixture of equal parts of two herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D.
During the early 1950s, the British were the first to employ herbicides and defoliants to destroy the crops, bushes, and trees of communist insurgents in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency. In early 1951, the Malayan administration bought over 15,000 gallons of Trioxone from the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and asked the British for advice on the use of defoliants in its increasingly bitter war against communist guerrillas. The 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D (Agent Orange) were primarily manufactured by the ICI and its product was widely used by the British military against communist insurgents throughout the Malayan conflict in the 1950s. The ICI provided technical assistance to the British military in that conflict and encouraged them to use Agent Orange widely as they thought it would help destroy communist insurgents.[3]
In mid-1961, President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam asked the United States to conduct aerial herbicide spraying in his country. In August of that year, the South Vietnamese Air Force initiated herbicide operations with American help. But Diem's request launched a policy debate in the White House and the State and Defense Departments.[1] However, U.S. officials considered using it, pointing out that the British had already used herbicides and defoliants during the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s. In November 1961, President John F. Kennedy authorized the start of Operation Ranch Hand, the codename for the U.S. Air Force's herbicide program in Vietnam.
Agent Orange was manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. It was given its name from the color of the orange-striped barrels in which it was shipped, and was by far the most widely used of the so-called "Rainbow Herbicides".[4] The 2,4,5-T used to produce Agent Orange was contaminated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), an extremely toxic dioxin compound. In some areas, TCDD concentrations in soil and water were hundreds of times greater than the levels considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.[5][6]
U.S., British, and other Allied authorities officially stated that the use of herbicides and defoliants in warfare were not carried out in forms of chlorinemustardnerve, and sarin gases (all which were classified as chemical weapons). Rather, these substances were considered extremely harmless to human life and were mainly used in both Malaya and Vietnam to defoliate plants to deprive the enemy of cover or concealment so as to protect Allied troops from ambushes and/or expose their lines of communication to Alliedreconnaissance aircraft and not as a weapon of war against human populations and human-made structures. Therefore, Agent Orange fall under the category of herbicidal warfare, not chemical warfare.[7][8]
In the absence of specific customary or positive international humanitarian law regarding herbicidal warfare, a draft convention, prepared by a Working Group set up within theConference of the Committee on Disarmament (CCD), was submitted to the UN General Assembly in 1976. In that same year, the First Committee of the General Assembly decided to send the text of the draft convention to the General Assembly, which adopted Resolution 31/72 on December 10, 1976, with the text of the Convention attached as an annex thereto. The convention, namely the Environmental Modification Convention, was opened for signature and ratification on May 18, 1977, and entered into force in October 5, 1978. The convention prohibits the military or other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects. Many states do not regard this as a complete ban on the use of herbicides and defoliants in warfare but it does require case-by-case consideration.[9][10]
Use In The Malayan Emergency
During the Malayan Emergency, Britain was the first nation to employ the use of herbicides and defoliants to destroy bushes, trees, and vegetation to deprive insurgents of cover and targeting food crops as part of a starvation campaign in the early 1950s. A detailed account of how the British experimented with the spraying of herbicides was written by two scientists, E.K. Woodford of Agricultural Research Council's Unit of Experimental Agronomy and H.G.H. Kearns of the University of Bristol.[38]
In early 1951, the Malayan administration bought over 15,000 gallons of Trioxone from the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and asked the British for advice on the use of defoliants in its increasingly bitter war against communist guerrillas. In September 1951, Lieutenant-General Sir Harold Briggs, director of operations in Malaya, discussed the possibility of destroying roadside vegetation using chemicals. The first experiment started with herbicides, sodium, trichloroacetate (STCA), and Trixone, the tradename for a special 50:50 mix of butyl esters of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. ICI "referred the problem back" to Plant Protection Limited its subsidiary in London. On November 26, 1951, the Colonial Office wrote to Professor Geoffrey Blackman of the Oxford University for an advice on chemical agents that "might be of use in clearing the undergrowth along roads, etc, so as to prevent ambushes". In January 1952, Colonial Secretary Oliver Lyttleton and General Sir Gerald Templer meet the ICI in London to discuss "large-scale roadside spraying in Malaya". British military chiefs were worried that guerrillas could hide within the vegetations and the bushes and ambush passing convoys. They also pointed out that British troops was unable to tell the difference between enemy combatants and non-combatantcivilians while conducting military operations through the jungles due to the fact the guerrillas wore civilian clothing and had support from the sympathetic civilian population. This led to war crimes committed by British troops, such as the Batang Kali massacre where 24 unarmed villagers were slaughtered, the mutilation and decapitation of enemy insurgents, and the shooting of civilians on the grounds on either they were presumably insurgents or that they refused to give information to the British. On January 29, 1952, Templer authorized the purchase of 250 tons of STCA and 10,500 gallons of Trioxone at the cost of an estimated $1.4 million. A few days later, the British military was given a clearance to use Agent Orange in Malaya on a large scale.[38][43][44]
The 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D (Agent Orange) were used to clear lines of communication and wipe out food crops as part of this strategy and in 1952,Trioxane, and mixtures of the aforementioned herbicides, were sent along a number of key roads. From June to October 1952, 1,250 acres of roadside vegetation at possible ambush points were sprayed with defoliant, described as a policy of “national importance”. The British reported that the use of herbicides and defoliants could be effectively replaced by removing vegetation by hand and the spraying was stopped. However, after this strategy failed, the use of herbicides and defoliants in effort to fight the insurgents was restarted in February 1953, as a means of destroying food crops grown by communist forces in jungle clearings.Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft dispatched STCA and Trioxaone, along with pellets of chlorophenyl N,N-Dimethyl-1-naphthylamine onto crops such as sweet potatoes and maize. This continued until the conflict's end in 1960.[38][45]
The British government at the time advised its embassies throughout the world that these herbicides and defoliants "all share the property of being harmless to human and animal life". However, it is almost certain that the 2,4,5-T manufactured at this time was heavily contaminated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or dioxin. Chemists synthesized dioxin for the first time in 1957, and recognized that it was always produced during the manufacture of the herbicide 2,4,5-T. At the same time, they found that tiny quantities of dioxin caused the chronic skin complaint chloracne, a disfiguring disease which can persist for up to 15 years after exposure to dioxin. The chemical also causes cancer and congenital abnormalities in embryos at low doses. Many Commonwealth personnel who handled and/or used Agent Orange during and decades after the conflict suffered from serious exposure of dioxin and Agent Orange also caused major soil erosion to areas in Malaya. An estimated 10,000 civilians and possibly insurgents in Malaya also suffered heavily from defoliant effects (though many historians likely agreed it was more than this number given that Agent Orange was used on a large scale in the Malayan conflict and unlike the U.S., the British government manipulated the numbers and kept its secret very tight in fear of negative world public opinion).[46][47][48]
After the Malayan conflict ended in 1960, the U.S. considered the British precedent in deciding that the use of defoliants was a legal tactic of warfareSecretary of State Dean Rusk advised President John F. Kennedy that the British had established a precedent for warfare with herbicides in Malaya.[3][49]
Use In The Vietnam War
During the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1971, the United States military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 U.S. gallons (75,700,000 l) of chemical herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia, as part of the aerial defoliation program known asOperation Ranch Hand.[50][51] Like the British did in Malaya, the goal was to defoliate rural/forested land, depriving guerrillas of food and cover and clearing sensitive areas such as around base perimeters.[52] The program was also a part of a general policy of forced draft urbanization, which aimed to destroy the ability of peasants to support themselves in the countryside, forcing them to flee to the U.S. dominated cities, depriving the guerrillas of their rural support base.[51][53]
Spraying was usually done either from helicopters or from low-flying C-123 Provider aircraft, fitted with sprayers and "MC-1 Hourglass" pump systems and 1,000 U.S. gal (3,800 L) chemical tanks. Spray runs were also conducted from trucks, boats, and backpack sprayers.[54][55][56]
The first batch of herbicides was unloaded at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam, on January 9, 1962.[4] U.S. Air Force records show at least 6,542 spraying missions took place over the course of Operation Ranch Hand.[57] By 1971, 12 percent of the total area of South Vietnam had been sprayed with defoliating chemicals, at an average concentration of 13 times the recommended U.S. Department of Agriculture application rate for domestic use.[58] In South Vietnam alone, an estimated 10 million hectares of agricultural land were ultimately destroyed.[59] In some areas, TCDD concentrations in soil and water were hundreds of times greater than the levels considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.[5][6]
The campaign destroyed 5 million acres (20,000 km2) of upland and mangrove forests and millions of acres of crops. Overall, more than 20% of South Vietnam's forests were sprayed at least once over a nine-year period.[53][60]
In 1965, members of the U.S. Congress were told "crop destruction is understood to be the more important purpose ... but the emphasis is usually given to the jungle defoliation in public mention of the program."[60] Military personnel were told they were destroying crops because they were going to be used to feed guerrillas. They later discovered nearly all of the food they had been destroying was not being produced for guerrillas; it was, in reality, only being grown to support the local civilian population. For example, in Quang Ngai province, 85% of the crop lands were scheduled to be destroyed in 1970 alone. This contributed to widespread famine, leaving hundreds of thousands of people malnourished or starving.[61]
The U.S. military began targeting food crops in October 1962, primarily using Agent Blue; the American public was not made aware of the crop destruction programs until 1965 (and it was then believed that crop spraying had begun that spring). In 1965, 42 percent of all herbicide spraying was dedicated to food crops. The first official acknowledgement of the programs came from the State Department in March 1966.[42][53]
Many experts at the time, including Arthur Galston, the biologist who developed and intensively studied 2,4,5-T and TCDD, opposed herbicidal warfare, due to concerns about the side effects to humans and the environment by indiscriminately spraying the chemical over a wide area. As early as 1966, resolutions were introduced to the United Nations charging that the U.S. was violating the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which regulated the use of chemical and biological weapons. The U.S. defeated most of the resolutions,[40][62]arguing that Agent Orange was not a chemical or a biological weapon as it was considered a herbicide and a defoliant and it was used in effort to destroy plant crops to deprive the enemy of cover and not meant to target human beings. A weapon, by definition, is any device used to injure, defeat, or destroy living beings, structures, or systems, and Agent Orange did not qualify under that definition. It also argued that if the U.S. were to be charged for using Agent Orange, then Britain and its Commonwealth nations should be charged since they also used it widely during the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s.[63] In 1969, during a debate in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly on the question of chemical and bacteriological (biological) weapons, Britain stated with respect to the then still draft Resolution 2603 (XXIV): “The evidence seems to us to be notably inadequate for the assertion that the use in war of chemical substances specifically toxic to plants is prohibited by international law.”[64]
Effects On The Vietnamese People

Health Effects

Major Tự Đức Phang was exposed to dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange.

Vietnamese babies, deformed andstillborn after prenatal dioxin exposure from Agent Orange.
The Vietnam Red Cross reported as many as 3 million Vietnamese people have been affected by Agent Orange, including at least 150,000 children born with birth defects.[65] According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 people being killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.[66] Women had higher rates of miscarriage and stillbirths, as did livestock such as cattle, water buffalo, and pigs.[67] The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems due to contaminated Agent Orange.[68] The United States government has challenged these figures as being unreliable and unrealistically high.[69][70]
Children in the areas where Agent Orange was used have been affected and have multiple health problems, including cleft palate, mental disabilities, hernias, and extra fingers and toes.[71] In the 1970s, high levels of dioxin were found in the breast milk of South Vietnamese women, and in the blood of U.S. military personnel who had served in Vietnam.[72] The most affected zones are the mountainous area along Truong Son (Long Mountains) and the border between Vietnam and Cambodia. The affected residents are living in substandard conditions with many genetic diseases.[73]
About 28 of the former U.S. military bases in Vietnam where the herbicides were stored and loaded onto airplanes may still have high level of dioxins in the soil, posing a health threat to the surrounding communities. Extensive testing for dioxin contamination has been conducted at the former U.S. airbases in Da Nang, Phu Cat and Bien Hoa. Some of the soil and sediment on the bases have extremely high levels of dioxin requiring remediation. The Da Nang Airbase has dioxin contamination up to 350 times higher than international recommendations for action.[74][75] The contaminated soil and sediment continue to affect the citizens of Vietnam, poisoning their food chain and causing illnesses, serious skin diseases and a variety of cancers in the lungs, larynx, and prostate.[71]

Ecological Effects

About 17.8 percent—3,100,000 hectares (12,000 sq mi)—of the total forested area of Vietnam was sprayed during the war, which disrupted the ecological equilibrium. The persistent nature of dioxins, erosion caused by loss of tree cover and loss of seedling forest stock meant that reforestation was difficult (or impossible) in many areas.[76] Many defoliated forest areas were quickly invaded by aggressive pioneer species (such as bamboo and cogon grass), which make it unlikely that the forests will be able to regenerate. Animal-speciesdiversity was also impacted; in one study a Harvard biologist found 24 species of birds and five species of mammals in a sprayed forest, while in two adjacent sections of unsprayed forest there were 145 and 170 species of birds and 30 and 55 species of mammals.[77]
Dioxins from Agent Orange have persisted in the Vietnamese environment since the war, settling in the soil and sediment and entering the food chain through animals and fish which feed in the contaminated areas. The movement of dioxins through the food web has resulted in bioconcentration and biomagnification.[78] The areas most heavily contaminated with dioxins are former U.S. air bases.[79]

Sociopolitical Effects

The RAND Corporation's Memorandum 5446-ISA/ARPA states: "the fact that the VC obtain most of their food from the neutral rural population dictates the destruction of civilian crops ... if they (the VC) are to be hampered by the crop destruction program, it will be necessary to destroy large portions of the rural economy – probably 50% or more".[80]
Rural-to-urban migration rates dramatically increased in South Vietnam, as peasants escaped the war in the countryside by fleeing to the cities. The urban population in South Vietnam nearly tripled, growing from 2.8 million people in 1958 to 8 million by 1971. The rapid flow of people led to a fast-paced and uncontrolled urbanization; an estimated 1.5 million people were living in Saigon slums.[81]

Effects On U.S. Veterans

Some studies showed that veterans who served in the South during the war have increased rates of cancer, and nerve, digestive, skin and respiratory disorders. Veterans from the south had higher rates of throat cancer, acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer. With the exception of liver cancer, these are the same conditions the U.S. Veterans Administration has determined may be associated with exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, and are on the list of conditions eligible for compensation and treatment.[82]
Military personnel who loaded airplanes and helicopters used in Ranch Hand probably sustained some of the heaviest exposures. Members of the Army Chemical Corps, who stored and mixed herbicides and defoliated the perimeters of military bases, and mechanics who worked on the helicopters and planes, are also thought to have had some of the heaviest exposures. However, this same group of individuals has not shown remarkably higher incidences of the associated diseases. Others with potentially heavy exposures included members of U.S. Army Special Forces units who defoliated remote campsites, and members of U.S. Navy river units who cleared base perimeters.[83] Military members who served on Okinawa also claim to have been exposed to the chemical but there is no verifiable evidence to corroborate these claims.[84]
While in Vietnam, the veterans were told not to worry, and were persuaded the chemical was harmless.[85] After returning home, Vietnam veterans began to suspect their ill health or the instances of their wives having miscarriages or children born with birth defects might be related to Agent Orange and the other toxic herbicides to which they were exposed in Vietnam. Veterans began to file claims in 1977 to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability payments for health care for conditions they believed were associated with exposure to Agent Orange, or more specifically, dioxin, but their claims were denied unless they could prove the condition began when they were in the service or within one year of their discharge.
By April 1993, the Department of Veterans Affairs had only compensated 486 victims, although it had received disability claims from 39,419 soldiers who had been exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.[86]

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