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What is Agent Orange, really?

Veterans’ Voices is directed toward veterans and their families who have given so much to ensure our freedom in this country. This is an area where you may share your experiences, or read of other veterans’ experiences. We thank you for your service, and hope that you know how much you are loved and appreciated.


I have been asked multiple times about this chemical. So, I thought I would write about it. It has affected many veterans that I know and will continue for generations. I hope I will explain it well enough below to understand. If, by chance you still don’t understand, email me below and I will answer it in more detail.

Agent Orange was a herbicide mixture used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Much of it contained a dangerous chemical contaminant called dioxin. Production of Agent Orange supposedly ended in the 1970s and is no longer in use. The dioxin contaminates, however, continue to have harmful impact today. As many U.S. Vietnam-era veterans know dioxin is a highly toxic and persistent organic pollutant liked to cancers, diabetes, birth defects and other disabilities.

The Red Cross estimates that 3 million Vietnamese have been affected by dioxin, including at least 150,000 children born with serious birth defects. Millions of Americans and Vietnamese are still affected, directly and indirectly, by this spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides over southern and central Vietnam.

Agent Orange was sprayed at up to 20 times the concentration the manufacturers recommended for killing plants. It defoliated millions of acres of forests and farmland. Large tracts of that land remain degraded and unproductive even to this day. The chemical dioxin in Agent Orange can remain toxic in the soil for decades. Soil samples have now been analyzed from both the areas that were heavily sprayed and the former American military bases where Agent Orange and other chemicals were stored and handled.

In almost all instances, measured dioxin levels were below Government of Vietnam threshold standards. However, some soils at three of the former military bases did have very high concentrations of dioxin. To prevent dioxin from entering the food chain, and affecting both adults and children in surrounding areas, these chemical “hot spots” are now being cleaned up, (supposedly).

After its use in the 1960s, Agent Orange was banned by the U.S. in 1971, and remaining stocks were taken from Vietnam and the U.S. to Johnston Atoll, a U.S. controlled island about 700 miles southeast of Hawaii, where they were destroyed in 1978. There is no ‘Agent Orange’ in Vietnam or anywhere else today, (again supposedly).

The first test spraying occurred on Aug. 10, 1961. The U.S. Air Force aerial spraying program, Operation Hades (later renamed Operation Ranch Hand), took place from January 1962 until February 1971, largely from C-123 cargo planes, which accounted for 95 percent of the herbicides sprayed. The U.S. Chemical Corps and other allied forces sprayed the remaining 5 percent from helicopters, trucks and by hand, mostly to clear brush around military base perimeters.

The herbicides were sprayed over about 24 percent of southern Vietnam, destroying 5 million acres of upland and mangrove forests, and about 500,000 acres of crops — a total area nearly the size of Massachusetts. Of these areas, 34 percent were sprayed more than once; some of the upland forests were sprayed more than four times. One study found that 3,181 villages were sprayed as well. Areas of Laos and Cambodia near the Vietnam border were also sprayed.

The U.S. government stopped the spraying of all herbicides in October 1971, but the South Vietnamese military continued spraying various chemicals until 1972. The production of Agent Orange was halted in the 1970s. Existing stocks were collected and destroyed by incineration, and it is no longer used.

The lifespan of dioxin: The half-life of dioxin depends on its location. In human bodies the half-life is 11–15 years, though it can be as high as 20. In the environment, the half-life varies depending on the type of soil and the depth of penetration. Sun will break down dioxin, so on leaf and soil surfaces it will last 1–3 years, depending on conditions. Dioxin buried or leached under the surface or deep in the sediment of rivers and other bodies of water can have a half-life of more than 100 years.

Some of the presumptive diseases caused by Agent Orange is AL Amyloidosis, Bladder Cancer, Chronic B-cell Leukemias, Chloracne, Diabetes Mellitus Type 2, Hypertension, Hodgkin’s Disease, Hypothyroidism, Ischemic Heart Disease, Monoclonal gammopathy, Multiple Myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Parkinsonism Parkinson’s Disease, Peripheral Neuropathy, Prostate Cancer, Respiratory Cancers, Soft Tissue Sarcomas, and the list is climbing. I read someplace that Agent Orange can affect 5 generations down. And that is climbing.

If some of you reading this think you have a claim, email me and I can give you a path to go for compensation. You can email me at

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— Royal D. Goodman, U.S. Army/Vietnam,

1st Cav/9th Infantry


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