Pollution and Wastes

What are Operation Ranch Hand and Agent Orange?

Operation Ranch Hand was the tactical military project for the aerial spraying of herbicides in South Vietnam during the Vietnam Conflict (1961–1975). In these operations Agent Orange, the collective name for the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, was used for defoliation. The name derives from the color-coded drums in which the herbicides were stored. In all, U.S. troops sprayed approximately 19 million gallons (72 million liters) of herbicides over 4 million acres (1.6 million hectare).

Concerns about the health effects of Agent Orange were initially voiced in 1970, and since then the issue has been complicated by scientific and political debate. In 1993, a 16-member panel of experts reviewed the existing scientific evidence and found strong evidence of a statistical association between herbicides and soft-tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and chloracne. On the other hand, they concluded that no connection appeared to exist between exposure to Agent Orange and skin cancer, bladder cancer, brain tumors, or stomach cancer.


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