and that was intentional, but what about the US VETS?
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NJ Agent Orange Commission Home Page

U.S. high court to hear firms' Agent Orange appeal
Reuters Washington : November 4, 2002

Chemical Firms Ask High Court To Stop Agent Orange Suits
February 26, 2003

Monsanto was one of the principal companies involved in supplying the 19 million gallons of herbicide used on Vietnam between 1962 and 1971. Under the military project code named Operation Ranch Hand, the US Air Force sprayed 6 million acres of South Vietnam's forest, while some was used specifically to spray crops.

The most widely deployed defoliant was Agent Orange, of which at least 11 million gallons was used. Agent Orange is a 50:50 mix of two phenoxy herbicides: 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxy acetic acid) and 2,4,5-T (2,4,5-trichlorophenoxy acetic acid). These were common agricultural chemicals, widely used in the US. Its name comes from the coloured coding on the drums used by the military , there being a whole range of different chemicals used as defoliants - including Agents White, Blue and Pink. In the rush to meet the military's demand for Agent Orange, a contaminant became concentrated in the manufacture process.

TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin) is an unavoidable and unwanted by product of the manufacture of 2,4,5,T. However in domestic preparations, it is present in much lower concentrations, 0.05ppm as opposed to 50ppm in stock shipped to Vietnam. Therefore dioxin contamination of Agent Orange was up to 1,000 times higher than in domestic herbicides. TCDD is believed to be the most toxic of the dioxins, a familly of chemicals that has been described as, "the most toxic substances known to humans." 1,2

Despite much conjecture from chemical companies, an independent scientific review has concluded that there is a significant link between exposure to Agent Orange and serious illness, including various cancers, serious skin disorders (chloracne) and liver disorders. 3

But whilst these cases received great attention, Americans rarely served in Vietnam for more than a year. For those whose homes were repeatedly dosed with poison, there was no escape. Some estimates put the figure of children born in Vietnam with dioxin related deformities since the 1960s as up to 500,000.

Perhaps the most gruesome legacy of the contaminated herbicide, is to be found in a locked room in Tu Du Obstetrical and Gynaecological Hospital in Saigon. Here the walls are lined with shelves filled with jars of formalin, containing aborted and full term foetuses. They are just a sample of the horror that emerged from Vietnam- and the hospital has for a long time been unable to afford the bottles and formalin to preserve more specimens. They feature double and triple conjoined bodies, faces covered in cancerous growths and other terrible deformities. 4

When the veterans of the Vietnam war started to succumb to illnesses, it was thought that the companies responsible for the contamination would offer compensation. However Monsanto and Dow Chemicals were involved in a lengthy campaign of belittling scientific evidence proving the toxicity of dioxins. A class action suit was brought against seven companies involved (Monsanto, Dow Chemicals, Uniroyal, Hercules, Diamond Shamrock, Thompson Chemical and TH Agriculture). This was settled out of court in May 1984 for victims and families exposed to herbicides for $180 million, but the companies continued to deny that Agent Orange was responsible for the health complaints.5

It seems that despite the best efforts of Monsanto, the reality of the risks associated with dioxin are emerging. The World Health Organisation has recently slashed its recommended safe limit for dioxin intake by 60-90 percent. This will mean that many consumers will already have intakes well in excess of the new limits.

The chemical industies defence, is that there are differences in the way that species react, and that there are obvious obstacles preventing experimentation on humans. Of the few studies on exposure of dioxins to humans, some failed to show any increased risk of cancer. Principal amongst these were two Monsanto sponsered studies of Monsanto workers accidentally exposed to dioxin.6

That is why the veterans had to settle for little more than "nuisance value" compensation. By the time further evidence emerged of the carcinogenity of dioxins, it was too late for the veterans as the courts had closed their doors on further settlements. 7

The question is whether Monsanto deliberately manipulated its studies to reduce its liability to Vietnam veterans? 8

A great many lives were ruined by the conflict in Vietnam. That a multinational company, now trying to sell itself as the saviour of a starving world, should have profited out of this enduring misery is a sad indictment of the state we are in. That Monsanto still continues to shirk its responsibility to the veterans of the conflict, both American and Vietnamese is a disgrace.

  1. Roberts, L., "Dioxin Risks Revisited," Science, 8 February, 1991, pp. 624-6.
  2. Beder, S., Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism, Green Books, 1997.
  3. Rachels Environment and Health Weekly, No.212, December 19, 1990.
  4. Curry, C.B., "Residual Dioxin in Vietnam," Vietnam Generation Journal, Nov.1992, Vol 4, Nos 3-4.
  5. Op.cit.2.
  6. Sanjour, W., 1996. "The Monsanto Investigation," Annals of the EPA: Part 4.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Op.cit. 6.

From an article in The Ecologist
Sept/Oct 1998 Vol 28 No 5
by Hugh Warwick

submitted by Rowena Tollitt
last proofed:- 03 March, 2003