The U.S. Department of Defense developed Agent Orange as a tactical herbicide used to remove trees and dense tropical vegetation during the Vietnam War. In the process, about 5 million acres of vegetation were destroyed. The name Agent Orange comes from the orange stripe on the 55-gallon drums used to store the chemical.
Agent Orange is an herbicide/defoliant that causes leaves to fall off of plants and contains dioxin. Dioxin is a highly toxic environmental contaminant produced by industrial waste. The toxic dioxin component in Agent Orange, known as TCDD, can be very harmful even in trace amounts, but exposure is rare.
However, U.S. military personnel serving in Vietnam between 1962 and 1875 are “presumed to have been exposed to herbicides” (including Agent Orange), according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Vietnamese citizens were also exposed to the chemical.
Prolonged exposure to Agent Orange is believed to cause birth defects and some cancers. Side effects of trace (or small) exposures are still being investigated.
The Danang airbase in Vietnam where Agent Orange was stored continues to be a hot spot for dioxin contamination. Since the Vietnam War, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of any herbicide that contains some of the most harmful dioxins, reducing dangerous exposures to TCDD in the U.S.
For more information about Agent Orange, visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Agent Orange webpage.