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Understanding Agent Orange

Few people in generation Y and Z understand Agent Orange and its effects. Here, we delve into Agent Orange 101 to understand what it is, the effect it has on health, and what is currently being done about it. Please be advised, the pictures can be upsetting.


Agent Orange deformities in Vietnam
Source: Mother Jones Magazine; Wikipedia


For the generation that lived through the Vietnam War, Agent Orange is a topic mired my controversy and debate.  In recent years, many programs have emerged to tackle the issue, as our own Brian Luong reported in a post months ago.  However, we have come to realize that for many, if not most, of those born in the generations after the war, Agent Orange has no meaning.  Few understand what it is and even less know about its effects.

Here, we want to delve into Agent Orange 101 to understand what it is, the impact it made, and what is currently being done about it.

(Note: Facebook readers, please click here for article with pictures)

What is Agent Orange? Agent Orange is a chemical used by the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971 to remove forest cover, destroy crops, and disrupt agriculture food production.  It is called “Agent Orange” because of the orange band that identifies the barrel the chemical came in.  There were also Agents Purple, Green, and Pink.

What’s Bad About It? The production of the chemical created a useless but extremely dangerous byproduct named TCDD, more commonly called Dioxin.  Dioxin is poisonous to humans and has been shown to cause serious diseases and deformities to those directly exposed to it and to their children.

How Widespread Was It? The estimates vary.  According to a congressional report, 2.1 to 4.8 million people were directly exposed to Agent Orange.  Below is a map of areas in Vietnam sprayed with herbicide:


From US Congressional Report: Vietnamese Victim of Agent Orange,  May 2009
From US Congressional Report: Vietnamese Victim of Agent Orange, May 2009

The report states that between 1961 and 1971, 12 million gallons of Agent Orange was sprayed over nearly 10% of South Vietnam.

The Impact:

The chemical have been shown to cause serious skin diseases as well as a vast variety of cancers in the lungs, larynx, and prostate.  Other effects include cleft palate, mental disabilities, hernias, and extra fingers and toes.  The scariest impact is that the disease and deformities caused by the chemical can span across generations.

Agent Orange Effect on Children
Photo by Alexis Duclos


By the numbers:

– 2.1 to 4.8 million affected
– 400,000 deaths and disabilities
– 500,000 children born with birth defects

What Happened After:

A series of lawsuits came about when people started realizing and experiencing the effects of Agent Orange.  Those lawsuits culminated into a class action lawsuit in the 1980’s by U.S. Veterans versus the chemical companies that produced Agent Orange.  There were 37 companies involved.  The major ones were Dow Chemical, Monsanto (now Solutia), Diamond Shamrock, Hercules, and Uniroyal.

In 2005, a similar lawsuit was filed by the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange against the chemical companies that produced the defoliant/herbicides.  However, the same judge from the 1984 trial dismissed the lawsuit, the reason being “that the use of these chemicals during the war, although they were toxic, did not in his opinion fit the definition of ‘chemical warfare’ and therefore did not violate international law.”

In 2009, the US Supreme Court once again dismissed the lawsuit of Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange.

What Now?

In recently years, numerous programs have sprung up to help decontaminate affected areas as well as provide care and compensation for victims.  In 2007, President Bush passed a bill that allocated $3 million in funding to remedy “dioxin hotspots.”  In 2009, President Obama signed a bill to double that aid, ensuring $6 million to the program.


Personal Note:

There are numerous efforts by NGOs, like East Meets West Foundation, that spread awareness and rally our community to tackle the issue head-on.  The fact remains that there are hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam still suffering from the effects of Agent Orange.

Personally, I believe this issue should be kept free from politics.  At the end of the day, there are people suffering and too few hands helping.  It is an ongoing humanitarian issue and our resources should not be wasted litigating the past.  If you are interested in helping out or raising awareness, I work with several groups trying to do just that.  Feel free to contact me, James Bao, at jhbao @

31 responses to “Understanding Agent Orange

    Why I Hate Stephen Harper: Agent Orange in Canada
    Contributed by Anonymous on Tue, 2010/02/02 – 3:10pm.

    On January 11 2006 in Woodstock NB, Stephen Harper said: “A Conservative government will stand up for full and fair compensation to persons exposed to defoliant spraying during the period from 1956 to 1984.”

    “We will disclose all information concerning the spraying to veterans and civilians, and will provide medical testing to any person who may have been exposed.”

    […] Please see the full article here:

    February 2, 2010
    Kelly Porter Franklin
    Nanaimo, BC, Canada

  2. American can abuse their military powers by using, not one, but two nuclear warrheads on Japan and using chemical warfare in Vietnam, but it’s alright because it’s in the name of “freedom.” Pathetic is what it is…Other nations can’t have WMDs or use chemical warfare, while America prances around doing whatever it pleases.

      1. very true and as well i believe that he has the right to comment these words, because he is speaking the truth and there is no crime in speaking. for those who believe that he is wrong to say these thing, take another look at the military in the u.s. we simply think we are better than everyone else and we basically try to rule the world like its our land when it isn’t and that’s why there is war and crimes against other countrys and terrorists, because they don’t want us to control them. america isn’t the best country and we need to respect other countrys and let them have similar and as powerful warfare as we do otherwise its never going to be a fair fight.

      2. American political figures seem to forget that America is made of immigrants, and we are all from the entire world. We killed our brothers and sisters in a heartless battle. America wanted freedom from one person having too much power and now the polotics are trying to control the world. It makes no sense. They say education is so important and now they’re taking our teachers away from us. America’s going nowhere good until they are reminded that we’re only humans, and we can take so much misery for so long. I’m just a kid, and I hope that one day, when I have kids, America will be what our founding fathers once hoped for, because we’re beginning to back to where we started.


  3. Friends, we are approaching 10th August, on this day in 1961 the spraying of Agent Orange over areas of South Vietnam began. It not only destroyed vast areas of beautiful forests and the animal life within them, it destroyed the crops and poisoned the rivers, and lakes and the fish in them. Dioxin-remains in the fatty part of the fish.

    It was also sprayed directly on the Hamlets of the people. All this resulted in many thousands of deaths of unborn babes in the wombs of their mothers. Hundreds of thousands were born with serious illnesses and deformities. Agent Orange has travelled in to the third generation. That is the horrific legacy left to the people and land of Vietnam.

    Where I would disagree with James is when he writes: “Personally, I believe this issue should be kept free from politics.” Of course he has the the right to hold that view, but James the decision to use chemicals on Vietnam was a political one. The then US Government and the Chemical companies who manufactured Agent Orange knew of the danger of Agent Orange and Dioxin but remaind silent.

    Us veterans and their familes were also affected by Agent Orange and have received payment for the suffering they have and are enduring. But for the Vietnamese not one cent has been paid by either the US Government or the Chemical companies headed by Monsanto and Dow Chemicals.

    Friends the spraying continued for Ten-Years. This year will be the 49th anniversary of the spraying. Justice for the Vietnamese Victims is many years overdue.

    One of your contributors asked what can they do? I sugegst that letters go to President Obama and to his wife Michelle the mother of two lovely children asking that compensation be paid to the Vietnamese. Letters should also be sent to Monsanto, Dow and the other 34 companies demanding that they accept responsibilities and to make compensation to the victims and their families.

    Len Aldis. Secretary
    Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society
    London. UK

    1. I am an adult child of an american military veteren who was sprayed by agent orange during the Vietnam Conflict. I want to point out that it is wrongly stated that americans have been compensated for the issues they have endured due to our government spraying this horrendous chemical. Most veterens who were affected have not been compensated or even acknowledged by our government or the veterens administration hospitals. They have died and are dying from the outcome of these sprayings en masse and most have not been able to even get the VA to provide medical care for the diseases our government has caused. Do not be so juvenile to believe that Americans whom were sprayed are being treated better than the unfortunate Vietnamese. The United States government doesn’t care much about any human beings, regardless if they are our own citizens or not.

      1. I HAVE AN ADULT CHILD . HER DADDY MY HUSBAND WAS IN THE AGENT ORANGE ZONE BACK THEN..HE CAME HOME ON HOME Leave.he was contiminated already.Results were I Consieved I had a baby girl with learning disablities,she has Mental Condition all her life.Now she had a Baby Girl whom also has the same Mental condition.They both receive a little money from the state,not enought to live on,not to mention the damage the agent orange has DONE now what??I feel like The Goverment owe them a New Life. to both my Daughter ,and my Grand daughter.I STILL DON’T KNOW HOW MANY GENERATIONS THIS DAMAGE WILL GO ON FOR??????????????

  4. I’ve done an enormous amount of work lately on the Wikipedia article for Agent Orange (

    It still needs a lot of work, and there are parts in there that I haven’t gotten to yet, so check the sources provided on everything. But there is a ton of information there, as well as a lot of graphics and video.

    By the way —
    @Carol202: You asked how you could help. Since Monsanto and the U.S. government refuse to help the people of Vietnam, one thing you could do is look into groups that give medical aid to Vietnamese peasants who are affected by this. They desperately need funding and any assistance you could offer, and are the people most affected by Agent Orange.

    Take care, and thanks to Mr. Bao for writing this informative article as well.

    1. Thank you for this information — I was looking up facts on Vietnam (landscape and historical), and I had never heard of Agent Orange.
      I am shocked.
      The fact that compensation has not already been paid to victims is unbelievable.


  5. i,ve applied for agent orange related va diseases they recognize they sing apretty song but den y ya iservbed in the rung sat and with 2/60 9th inf div 3rd bdge 66-67 nothing has come of it veterans are dying from cancers and diabetes and thats it many viet vets are in va hospiatl wards with amputations and diabetes thats it nothing is done they,ll wait you out till you die another name and face and nothing

  6. Hi James, thanks for your email, good to read the issue of Agent Orange and the legacy it left for the people of Vietnam is still high on the agenda.  It certainly is for me and many thousands in many lands. I just came back 16th Dec from a second visit to Vietnam where I along with a few others from UK met with some of the children at Tu Du Hospital in HCMC, for those of the group whose first visit it was, it really shook them and I am hoping that now back home they will take action to get the US Govt and the Chemical companies headed by Monsanto and Dow to accept responsibilty and pay compensation.  When there in August I learnt that the efefct of AO has now gone into the fourth generation, some legacy to leave a country that never attacked the US.

    Now waiting for the 24th January where Monsanto will hold its agm in St Louis, there are signs that a number of indivduals and organisations will be outside and inside to protest to the Chairman nand the board members, making their concerns for justice loud and clear.

    If more information is needed suggest your readers look at the website of a new organisation we set-up:  There you will see and read what AO has done and what action the readers can take.

    Wishing you all a Great TET Chuc Mung Nam Moi

    Len Aldis. Chairman
    Agent Orange Action Group

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