Agent Orange was the US Army’s code name for an herbicide used widely by the United States during the Vietnam War between 1961 and 1970. Agent Orange was called so because of the orange stripes found on the sides of the herbecide containers. Other code-named herbicides used by the US Army in moderate to large quantities during this timeframe include Agent Blue (cacodylic acid), Agent White (4:1 mixture of 2,4-D and picloram), Agent Purple, and Agent Pink. Their names were derived from the color of the stripes on the barrels used to transport them.
Agent Orange was found to have toxic dioxin breakdown byproducts which have been blamed for causing health disorders and birth defects in both the Vietnamese population and U.S. war veterans. It has also been found to have carcinogenic properties.
The official military purpose of the herbicides was to remove the leaves of trees to deny the Viet Cong cover. However, an April 2003 report paid for by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that during the Vietnam War, 3,181 villages were sprayed directly with herbicides. Between 2.1 and 4.8 million people “would have been present during the spraying.” Furthermore, many U.S. military personnel were also sprayed or came in contact with herbicides in recently sprayed areas.
The study was originally undertaken for the U.S. military to get a better count of how many veterans served in sprayed areas. Researchers were given access to military records and Air Force operational folders previously not studied.
The re-estimate made by the report places the 1961 to 1971 volume of herbicides sprayed between 1961 and 1971 to a level 7,131,907 liters more than an “uncorrected” estimate published in 1974 and 9.4 million more liters than a 1974 “corrected” inventory.
It was produced under contract for the Army by Diamond Shamrock, Dow, Hercules, Monsanto, T-H Agricultural & Nutrition, Thompson Chemicals, and Uniroyal. About 75 million liters of the agent were used during the course of the Vietnam War.
Agent Orange was a roughly 1:1 mixture of the herbicides 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) and 2,4,5-T (2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid). These herbicides were developed during the 1940s for use in controlling broad-leaf plants. First introduced in 1947, they rapidly gained acceptance, and their use was considered an integral agricultural practice by the middle of the 1950s.
Although Agent Orange as a military defoliant was discontinued in 1971, both 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T continue to be widely used independently as effective herbicides.
In 1980, New Jersey created the New Jersey Agent Orange Commission, the first state commission created to study the effects of Agent Orange. Over the years, the Commission in association with Rutgers University created ground-breaking research on Vietnam veterans. The Commission’s research project was called “The Pointman Project”. The Commission was disbanded by Governor Christine Todd Whitman in 1996.
On January 31, 2004, a Vietnamese victim’s rights group, on behalf of three injured persons, filed a lawsuit in a Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York, against several unnamed US companies, for liability in causing personal injury, by developing and producing the chemical. Dow Chemical and Monsanto were the two largest producers of Agent Orange for the US Military. A number of lawsuits by American GI’s have been won in the years since the Vietnam War.
Agent Orange is also the name of a short song by singer Tori Amos. It appeared on her 1996 album Boys For Pele. The song has nothing to do with Agent Orange the chemical. It is a nickname given to her long-time bodyguard Joel because of the tan color of his skin.
Agent Orange was also the name of a punk rock band from Orange County, California.