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about Agent Orange/Dioxin

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Agent Orange Fact Sheet PDF version

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Agent Orange

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Agent Orange

Please visit our new comprehensive website on Agent Orange at http://www.agentorangerecord.com


Clarity on Two Terms


Agent orange—was one of a class of color-coded herbicides that US forces sprayed over the rural landscape in Vietnam to kill trees, shrubs and food crops over large areas. Agent orange was a 50/50 mixture of two individual herbicides, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. It remained toxic over a short period--a scale of days or weeks-- and then degraded.  The production of agent orange was halted in the 1970s, existing stocks were destroyed and it is no longer used.  The effects of agent orange do however persist in the form of ecologically degraded landscapes in parts of the hilly and mountainous areas of Vietnam.  The pre-war forests that existed in most of these areas took hundreds of years to reach an ecologically-balanced mixture of large numbers of species of flora and fauna. Natural regeneration would take centuries to reproduce those landscapes.  In addition, in some of the sprayed areas soil erosion and landslides have sharply lowered soil nutrient levels and altered the topographical features of the landscape.  These changes have encouraged a few species of invasive grasses of low value.  Active replanting with species of trees and shrubs which are ecologically viable and have economic value will require substantial and sustained long term investment.    


Dioxin— is a member of the class of persistent organic pollutants which resulted from the deliberately accelerated production of 2,4,5-T, one of the components of agent orange.  Dioxin can shorten the life of humans exposed to it and is associated with severe degradation of health in this and, potentially, future generations. Dioxin is toxic over a long period--a scale of many decades-- and does not degrade readily. Dioxin is not absorbed by plants nor is it water soluble. It can attach to fine soil particles or sediment, which are then carried by water downstream and settle in the bottoms of ponds and lakes. It continues to adversely affect people who eat dioxin-contaminated fish, molluscs and fowl produced around a handful of point sources of dioxin called dioxin "hot spots." Dioxin's continuing impact can be slowed or halted by genetic counselling, cutting the dioxin exposure pathways in the human food chain and by environmental remediation of contaminated sites. The adverse effects of dioxin on human health can be ameliorated in most cases if detected early, but they cannot be fully corrected in some cases by any amount of time or money.  If dioxin permanently alters the intricate internal cellular and chemical balances involved in maintaining good human health, there is serious risk of life-long health problems which may ultimately lead to mortality.


(Written by Wayne Dwernychuk, Hatfield Consultants and Charles Bailey, Director, Ford Foundation Special Initiative on Agent Orange)


Institute of Medicine, 2001. Veterans and Agent Orange update 2000. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

Dwernychuk, L. Wayne, Cau, H.D., Hatfield, C.T., Boivin, T.G., Hung, T.M., Dung, P.T., Thai, N.D.  2002.  Dioxin reservoirs in southern Viet Nam - A legacy of Agent Orange. Chemosphere 47, 117-137.

Stellman Jeanne Mager, Steven D. Stellman, Richard Christian, Tracy Weber & Carrie Tomasallo, 2003.  The extent and patterns of usage of Agent Orange and other herbicides in Vietnam. Nature 422: 686-687.



Goals of WLP's Agent Orange Program:

  • To raise awareness about the long term environmental and health impacts of the use of toxic herbicides and defoliants during the Vietnam war.

  • To help mitigate the impacts of Agent Orange in Viet Nam through supporting income generation programs, home construction, building and equipping classrooms for developmentally disabled children, raising funds to build rehabilitation and vocational education centers, and raising funds to support Vietnamese organizations working to alleviate the impacts of Agent Orange on human health and the environment

  • To put pressure on the US government 1) to accept its moral responsibility for the damages caused by the herbicides and defoliants during the war, 2) to provide humanitarian assistance to affected people and communities in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and 3) to contain and clean-up the dioxin hotspots that still remain throughout southern Vietnam.

  • To hold the chemical companies that produced the toxic herbicides accountable for the damage caused in SE Asia and around the world where the chemicals were used, and in the communities where the herbicides were manufactured.

  Agent Orange: The Legacy of War.
Legendary Magnum photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths returns to Vietnam to witness the continuing impact of Agent Orange. An 11-minute video by Lisa Miller.
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Last Ghost of War

Film Screenings

Last Ghost of War looks at the on-going consequences of the use of chemical defoliants and herbicides during the war in Vietnam through the lens of the current lawsuit against Dow, Monsanto, and 35 other chemical companies that manufactured the products. Who was responsible? What should be done today?

WLP is working with documentary filmmakers Janet Gardner and Pham Thai to coordinate screenings of this new film. To arrange a screening in your community contact shammond@warlegacies.org.

More information about the film is at the The Last Ghost of War website  Also see Schedule of screenings



War Legacies Project 144 Lower Bartonsville Rd, Chester, VT 05143

Tel: 917-991-4850 Fax: 917-591-2207 email: info@warlegacies.org