"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Monday, February 16, 2015

Agent Orange: The Whole Story

Barrels of Agent Orange

by Frank Fox

After I came home from Vietnam, I worked for many years in the Environmental Health and Safety field.

While I was there, the puzzle finally came together ...

Back in the 60’s, companies made some fairly potent chemicals. 

That being said, what was lacking at these production sites was any documentation about it’s effects on humans -- by that, I mean there was no information available to give to workers who handled the chemicals, or for the public who sold them.  

That was pretty much the state of Safety in those days -- make it and then sell it. Once sold, it was up to the purchaser to use it as he wished. 

The company I worked for made the Herbicide 2,4,5-T, which was also known as Agent Orange. Monsanto and Dow originally made these herbicides (weed killers) for agricultural weed control and sold it around the world. It was a great herbicide -- and it was very effective.

During the Vietnam War, the DoD put the word out that it would be great if there was something available to defoliate the thick canopied jungles of Vietnam. 

Dow and Monsanto were looking for sales, so they said, "We have something."  There was a demand and they made it.  There were no questions asked, as to how it would be used.  They just filled the shipments for their newest customer -- Uncle Sam.

Agent Orange (Herbicide Orange) was only one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1967. For that, a mixture of equal parts of two herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D was used.

The 2,4,5-T was shipped in bulk containers (55 gallon orange-striped drums, hence the name agent orange). The drums had no hazard handling labels, nor did the military train anyone on it’s safe handling, cautions, and proper use of PPE (personal protective equipment) while handling it. Back then, there were no cautionary measures taken, because it was not known that any were necessary.

As to the application of the chemicals, the military leadership was not yet aware of the environmental impact. To them, if a little worked good, then lets slap it on really thick to work even better.  Uncle Sam wasn’t in the chemical business and they didn’t know. 

It was probably one of those good ideas likely thought up by McNamara’s think tank.  Down the line, there was an order from above to handle, load, and disperse it until it could be seen as working in the jungles.

Applying Agent Orange
The pictures you may have seen of the military loading planes, or helicopters, with 2,4,5-T always showed G.I's stripped to the waist with no safety equipment, (suits, masks, or rubber gloves), and many were smoking cigarettes.

They got it all over them and on their smokes and they just puffed away as usual. 

There were no mandatory showers taken after handling the herbicide -- they may not have showered for days after.

The stuff is still toxic in the soil today. 

Impatient military leadership probably thought the action would be instant, but when it didn’t defoliate overnight, they likely hit it again and all the while, with unsafe handling.

Because it was happening in a land far away from the U.S., there was no alarm, nor monitoring. They just kept painting the jungle with it -- as well as animals, U.S. troops, and civilians. 

Now, of course, anything sold commercially has to have MSDS (material safety data sheets) that go along with every phase of handling it, for employees and for the public. There also must be documented training for employees in handling the material safely, as well as the use of PPE (personal protective equipment).  This must go along with the shipped bulk materials and it must also have warning labels.

I would like to think that these days, any company would require and document the training and safe handling of such toxic material.  At least I hope we handle toxic materials better today.  Sadly, it came too late for many who were exposed to Agent Orange, or any other chemicals. 

Just like anything else, AO affected everyone differently. Onset can be soon after exposure, or like what we're seeing now.  After lying dormant for decades, it is suddenly triggered by health, or immune system weakening, or maybe time itself brings it on.

Personally, I think the U.S. military leadership was only interested in the application of AO, not any lingering health issues. The DoD should be the donkey on this -- they were in love with destroying the jungle canopy at any cost. It was effective, but the casualties are still mounting up all these years later.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Feel free to comment on this post. You are also invited to write about anything you feel comfortable sharing. Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog. You are writing America's history, sharing the truth about the Vietnam veteran, and what it was like in Our War.


  1. Telling it like it is Frank Fox. All the government cared about was results, not anything else. As I saw it out there it's like I have said all along, that stuff even killed the dirt. I watched the jungle die right before my eyes, plus we had it all over us to boot, no way to bathe, clean up, etc unless it rained & they never sprayed if they knew it would rain. I can't imagine when it did rain where all the stuff ended up flowing down any & all waterways infecting everything it touched, people, foul, fish, animals.Nothing grew or lived through it, even years later. It will never go away & sadly it is passed on to our children, their children, on & on & on. Sadly the people who ordered this stuff dropped on the jungle were never around a single drop so they were as safe as one could be. It didn't affect them in any way so no harm--- no foul from where they saw it. Made tons of profits off it & we suffered & are suffering from it's after effects, while they walked away with a clean bill of health.

  2. There are far more related AO afflictions being suffered by veterans than are listed as "official" in the VA "listing". They will add one or two more every so often - BUT by then it will be too late. The VA looks forward to the declining numbers of Nam Vets.

    1. Yes. My Vietnam Vet brother passed on genetic damage to both his son and his sweet little granddaughter who was born with clubbed feet. The VA is still dragging its feet on some Nam cases, hiding files or destroying them. Make sure you get your induction and discharge physicals, which you must specifically request, because a memo went out at the VA to NOT include these -constructive fraud. Their mantra is "delay, deny and hope you die" sadly.

  3. My mother passed away in 1968 from the use of DDT 35 sprays as l was developing in her womb she was diagnosed with cancer. I had my left lump node removed in 68 just after my mother passed away. I have only recently been granted my files from these years. I intend to peruse this case to the fullest against Dow chemical co before the court's here in Australia now that l have the law of discovery on my side. This has caused great hardship in my life as being born of dark skin and now turning white due to the nature of this destructive chemical

  4. In country 1965 - 1966 145th Aviation Company based at Bien Hoa for a while. While Ranch Hand was not our mission, they flew out of Bien Hoa. I just retired from local county roads and highway dept. When I started 30 years ago, one of my "hats" was the right of way vegetation manager. I had been a crop duster and used that experience to get this job with a retirement and benefits. So here is the irony. As I inventoried my chemical room for the first time, there was a 55 gallon drum of Silvex . . . . 2,4 5-T and I was now the custodian of it. Lotta hoops and tax money to get rid of it. The use of Silvex in Vietnam constituted chemical warfare plan and simple. The authors of that tactic should have been prosecuted to the full extent of international law. Monsanto, DuPont and Dow helped me make a living for decades, just as they have helped us be the bread basket of the world. The other side of that ugly coin is the contamination and heartache these companies have wrought in the world. The monster is out of the box and I don't have a clue how to go back.


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