What Is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange was used in the Vietnam War by the American military.
Agent Orange was used in the Vietnam War by the American military.

Agent Orange is one of the most dangerous chemical weapons ever created and used by man. It gained its popularity when it was used during the Vietnam War by the United States military. It was mainly used to destroy forests and crop cover which were used by the Vietnamese troops. The American army used it to clear the dense jungle since the chemical has devastating environmental effects which enabled the Americans to get clear visibility to bomb the enemy camps. Agent Orange is a herbicide made up of two equal parts of the two herbicides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. Apart from having a severe impact on the environment, these herbicides are very harmful to human health. This is due to the presence of high levels of dioxin, a highly toxic chemical.

Development Of Agent Orange

Various types of herbicides were produced due to the efforts by the British and the United States to developed chemical weapons for World War II. These included the 2, 4, 5-T and 2, 4-D which make up Agent Orange. The chemical weapon was designed by Arthur Galton. He was under contract by the US Department of the Army to examine the impacts of the compounds mentioned above. He found out that when used in high amounts, some chemicals can defoliate plants. This is where the idea of using chemicals to destroy the crops of enemies to deny them access to food arose.

In 1945, the two herbicides making up Agent Orange were tested in Florida, and due to its success, the Americans started to mass produce the 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D chemicals. In the following years, experiments were conducted to test the two chemicals’ ability to defoliate plants in various countries including Tanganyika, and Kenya. After the use of defoliant chemicals during the Malayan Conflict of 1948-1960 by the British, the US used it as a precedent to decide that the use of herbicides was a legal tactic in war.

Agent Orange In The Vietnam War (1961-1971)

Under the approval by John F. Kennedy, the US Air Force began Operation Rand Hand by spraying herbicides in Vietnam in November 1961. This occurred after the president of South Vietnam himself asked the US to undertake such an operation. During Operation Rand Hand, it is said that over twenty million gallons of the herbicides were sprayed over 4.5 million acres of Vietnam. The goal was to destroy the crops and deny the Vietnam guerillas of any food and also destroy their cover.

The chemicals were transported in 55-gallon tanks which were orange in color. This is where the name Agent Orange developed. Agent Orange was available in different mixtures like Agent Orange I and Agent Orange II among others.

Health Effects

In low concentrations, the herbicides in Agent Orange are harmless. However, due to the presence of dioxin which was initially not a part of the herbicide, Agent Orange becomes deadly. Dioxin is produced as a byproduct during the manufacturing process. In high concentration, dioxin leads to skin inflammation. It also leads to dangerous pulmonary disease and sometimes death. It affects your vision, hearing, and kidneys and is known to be highly carcinogenic. In Vietnam, it led to the death of more than 400,000 people while more than 500,000 people were born with severe birth problems due to Agent Orange.


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