Agent Orange was a two-dioxin compound that was used for widespread defoliation in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the 1960s. The Agent Orange compound, TCDD, for dioxin tetrachlordibenzo-para-dioxin, is classified as a level 1 carcinogen, meaning any exposure can cause human cancers. The chemical was banned in the US in 1970, but its effects continue to cause suffering in the US and in Southeast Asia, where the chemical compound impregnates the soil and water.
The level 1 classification by the International Agency for Research on Cancer has detailed cancer risks for many years. But scientists are now looking specifically at long-term cancers in veterans and other people exposed to Agent Orange fifty years ago. Since the exposure window, new human harm has been documented as the group of veterans exposed has gotten older.
Soft tissue sarcoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have long been associated with Agent Orange exposure. Recently, long-tern studies have established a strong link with prostate cancer and bladder cancer. Other significant health effects include neurodevelopmental diseases in children and neurodegenerative disease in older veterans and people exposed.
While veterans exposed during the Vietnam War are one group exposed, other service members had to handle the shipping, handling, loading, and storage of the dioxin while working on military bases or on transport ships and planes. Current VA requirements detail combat service in Southeast Asia for exposure.
There is also the population of people who were born with birth defects in Vietnam; no significant long-term studies have been done to address the heavy exposure risk of those who live in areas where the defoliant was used repeatedly. Some studies have determined that the long-term total body exposure of the chemical is greater in people from Southeast Asia than anyone else. There is anecdotal information regarding congenital heart defects and other birth defects, as well as neurodevelopmental disease in infants. Small studies have determined specific exposure risk, such as paternal exposure and the risk of spina-bifida in children.
The World Health Organization, in their latest fact-sheet on dioxin, related the continuous exposure to humans through the food chain. Since the chemical doesn’t degrade naturally, it tends to accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals. Most countries monitor their food supply for dioxin, and it has been found throughout the world and throughout the animal food supply. Unfortunately, the chemical compound is still being produced, used, and accidentally released into the environment by industries around the world.
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