The United States and the United Kingdom created herbicidal weapons for use in World War II. However, it wasn’t until the Vietnam War the US started using them. Dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange became notorious for being one of the deadliest chemicals used in Operation Ranch Hand during the Vietnam War.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) even recognized the damage done to their veterans. However, Agent Orange wasn’t the only deadly chemical used in Vietnam. Let’s review some other herbicides sprayed in Vietnam with Ehline Law and our personal injury lawyers.
Most of us are aware of the US military spraying Agent Orange but have no idea that they also used other chemicals during the Vietnam war to destroy the forests enemy troops would hide in and the crops they would feed on.
The arsenal of chemicals used in Vietnam was commonly referred to as “Rainbow Herbicides” because of the regulatory requirements of identifying the barrels of herbicides through different color-coded bands. Manufacturers used colors to identify the herbicides from one another upon shipment, and the United States government selected the colors.
The US Department of Defense required chemical companies to produce herbicides for “combat operations,” which meant that they were far more toxic than the commercial grades. Chemicals used besides Agent Orange are as deadly, if not more than its famous counterpart.
The following are the different herbicides used in the Vietnam war.
Agent Orange was the most widely used herbicide sprayed across South Vietnam, followed by Agent White. A proprietary product of the Dow Chemical Company, Agent White surprisingly did not contain any Dioxin, a lethal chemical produced as a by-product of industrial processes. It had four parts of 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) mixed with one part of Picloram, both systematic herbicides that kill most broadleaf weeds by spurring uncontrollable growth.
During the war, when Agent Orange was not readily available, the US troops would use Agent White instead. What’s surprising is that the world was so focused on the known devastation of Agent Orange that they didn’t care when the US military used Agent White for several months after halting the use of Agent Orange in 1970.
Agent White is commercially sold under the name “Tordon 101”.
Agent Blue contained dimethylarsinic acid, its related salt, and sodium cacodylate mixed with water, which makes it unrelated to the other herbicides used in Vietnam.
Rice was a primary food source for the North Vietnamese army, and the Viet Cong troops and the US attacked rice paddies using thermite metal grenades and other explosives to eliminate their food supply. However, they found that rice was the most maddeningly challenging substance to destroy.
The US developed Agent Blue to eradicate rice paddies. Blue would dry out rice grains, which would devastate the crop as the rice needs water to live on. Using Agent Blue helped the US military destroy acres of rice fields, making them unsuitable for further planting. The military also used Blue to burn foliage in which the enemy troops would seek refuge before ambushing South Vietnam and US military forces.
Records suggest the US military sprayed approximately 4 million gallons of Agent Blue in Vietnam. Today, decades after the war’s end, Blue is one of the most profitable and common herbicides still used as weed killers.
Agent Purple was similar to Agent Orange chemically. It consisted of equal parts of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) but what was different between the two was the mixture of 2,4,5-T. The US used n-butyl ester in Agent Orange, while in Agent Purple, it was in the form of n-butyl (60%) and isobutyl ester (40%).
While Agent Orange contained 13 parts per million (ppm) of tetrachlorodibenzodioxin, a colorless odorless chemical known as Dioxin, Agent Purple contained a staggering 32.8 ppm.
An estimated 500,000 gallons of the Agent were sprayed during the Vietnam war. At the Eglin Air Force Base in the western Florida Panhandle, a sample of Agent Purple had higher Dioxin concentrations at 45 ppm.
The US initially used Purple in the earlier stages of the war and for testing purposes. Between 1966 and 1967, Canada used Agent Purple in CFB Gagetown to clear roadside brush.
Dioxin was present in most herbicides but in greater concentrations in earlier Agents, including Pink.
On average, Agent Pink contained 65.5 ppm of Dioxin, much higher than all the other herbicides used. The military documented about 13,291 gallons of the toxic chemical but procurement records suggest an additional 109,328 gallons. Although Pink was one of the least used herbicides during the war, it did leave behind a large percentage of the total Dioxin.
Just like Agent Pink, Green also had one active ingredient, 2,4,5-T. Since it had only one active chemical, the herbicide created had higher levels of Dioxin than those found in Agent Orange.
By mixing Agent Green with Pink, the US military intensified the herbicide effects, allowing them to use it to destroy crops. Records suggest that the United States military sprayed about 20,000 gallons.
After the war ended in 1975 and veterans returned home, they started to report deteriorating health. In 1980, the first-ever Agent Orange class action lawsuit was filed by Attorney Hy Mayerson, the pioneer in Agent Orange litigation.
Initially, the chemical manufacturers denied any link between the herbicides used in Vietnam and health conditions. However, as toxicology evidence started to mount, they agreed to pay $180 million in compensation in 1984.
Outraged by the settlement, the veterans felt betrayed by the lawyers representing them. By 1989, it was clear that the compensation was not enough, and a completely disabled Vietnam veteran would receive only $12,000 spread across ten years. To add more salt to the wounds, the veterans receiving compensation were not eligible for VA benefits far greater than their payout.
In 1991, the US Congress passed the Agent Orange Act, allowing VA to declare certain health conditions as presumptive to Agent Orange exposure, making Vietnam veterans eligible for medical treatment and disability compensation.
Not only did the use of herbicides affect the United States veterans, but its effects ravaged Vietnam. Dioxin quickly accumulated in the country’s food chain and became a deadly poison for citizens.
Governmental studies after the war reported 3 million Vietnamese exposed to Agent Orange suffering from illnesses associated with Agent Orange, while the Red Cross estimated a further 1 million Vietnamese facing disabilities, birth defects, and severe health effects. Studies in the 1970s suggested high levels of Dioxin in South Vietnamese women’s breast milk and the blood of US military personnel.
In 2002, the US and Vietnam held a joint conference to discuss the human health and environmental effects of Agent Orange. After a few hiccups in the negotiations, in 2005, the first US-Vietnam remediation of Dioxin took place.
In 2007. President Bush allocated $3 million for the clean-up of the base, which was later increased to $12 million after many critics stated that the funding would not help in clearing up the devastation left behind.
In 2004, a Vietnam rights group filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Vietnamese citizens suffering from exposure to Agent Orange. However, the District Court judge dismissed the case in 2005, stating that international law did not consider Agent Orange poisonous.
Ehline Law and our toxic exposure attorneys are helping veterans recover the benefits they deserve under the newly enacted PACT Act. If you’re a vet suffering from health conditions arising from your service in Vietnam, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation with our legal experts.
Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.