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Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam
In addition to these four major compounds, Dinoxol, Trinoxol, and diquat were applied on native grasses and bamboo (Brown, 1962). Soil-applied herbicides were also reportedly used around base camp perimeters, mine fields, ammunition storage areas, and other specialized sites requiring control of grasses and woody vegetation (Darrow et al., 1969). Additional accounts include the use of fungicides, insecticides, wetting agents, wood preservatives, insect repellents, and other herbicides (Gonzales, 1992). The number of military personnel potentially exposed to these chemicals is not available.
An undetermined amount of herbicides and insecticides was procured and distributed by Australian forces in Vietnam during 1966-1971. The use of these chemicals was confined largely to defoliation around base camps, improving security, and controlling mosquito-borne diseases. It appears that the chemicals were largely dispersed by use of ground delivery techniques, although low-volume aerial applications of insecticides, usually by helicopter, have been reported. The chemicals tested and used included 2,4-D, chlordane, DDT, diazinon, lindane, malathion, and picloram (Australian Senate Standing Committee, 1982).
Level of Toxic Contaminants
2,3,7,8-TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin) is a contaminant of 2,4,5-T, but not of 2,4-D, and is a very toxic material. The levels of TCDD found in any given lot of 2,4,5-T depend on the manufacturing process (Young et al., 1976), and different manufacturers produced 2,4,5-T with various concentrations of TCDD. The primary source of 2,4,5-T in the herbicides used in Vietnam was Agent Orange. It is the unknown concentration of TCDD in Agent Orange that is of particular concern.
Of all the herbicides used in South Vietnam, only Agent Orange was formulated differently from the materials for commercial application that were readily available in the United States (Young et al., 1978). TCDD concentrations in individual shipments were not recorded, and levels of TCDD varied in sampled inventories of herbicides containing 2,4,5-T. Analysis of the TCDD concentration in stocks of Agent Orange remaining after the conflict, which had either been returned from South Vietnam or had been procured but not shipped, ranged from less than 0.05 to almost 50 parts per million (ppm), averaging 1.98 and 2.99 ppm in two sets of samples (NAS, 1974; Young et al., 1978). Comparable manufacturing standards for domestic use of 2,4,5-T in 1974 required that TCDD levels be less than 0.05 ppm (NAS, 1974). Therefore, depending on which stocks were sampled, the level of dioxin contamination in Agent Orange could have been up to 1,000 times higher than the level of dioxin found in phenoxy herbicides domestically available at the time.