Agent Orange

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Four US Fairchild C-123 transport aircraft - converted to spray aircraft - during "Operation Ranch Hand" in Vietnam
Components of Agent Orange
2,4,5-T (structural formula)
Structural formula of 2,3,7,8-TCDD , which was contained as an impurity in Agent Orange and is considered to be the cause of the damage to health.

Agent Orange is the military name of a chemical defoliant that the United States used extensively in the Vietnam War and the Lao Civil War to defoliate forests and destroy crops . The US armed forces used it for the first time in January 1965 as part of Operation Ranch Hand to make camouflage through the dense jungle more difficult for the enemy guerrilla movement FNL ("Viet Cong") and to disrupt their food supply. It was sprayed over a large area from airplanes or helicopters. Since the herbicide was contaminated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD) due to the manufacturing process , many hundreds of thousands of residents of the affected areas and up to two hundred thousand US soldiers fell ill.

TCDD is the most toxic representative of the dioxins . Among other things, it has a foetotoxic ( teratogenic ) effect, i.e. it damages the unborn child in the womb, and is very persistent , i.e. it remains in the environment for a long time. The ongoing exposure of the Vietnamese population to dioxin is associated with the - up to the present day - drastically increased incidence of severe malformations in children, cancer , immune deficiencies and a large number of other diseases. According to estimates by the Red Cross, around one million Vietnamese suffered from damage to their health from the long-term effects of Agent Orange in 2002, including around 100,000 children with congenital malformations. While injured former US soldiers were financially compensated by the then manufacturing companies after legal disputes, Vietnamese victims have received no compensation to this day. A corresponding class action lawsuit in the USA was dismissed in 2005 because the use of Agent Orange was "not chemical warfare " and therefore not a violation of international law .

The name comes from the orange stripes with which the corresponding barrels were marked. The English word agent here means "means" or "active ingredient". Other, lesser known herbicides are Agent Blue , Agent Purple , Agent Green , Agent Pink, and Agent White . Agent Orange's international CAS identification number is 39277-47-9.

Use and manufacturer

Map of the contaminated areas in South Vietnam. Green: defoliation, red: crop destruction .
Defoliant spraying from a
Bell UH-1 helicopter in the Mekong Delta in July 1969

Between 1962 and 1971, the US Air Force carried out more than 6000 sorties with various defoliants during Operation Ranch Hand , which was authorized by John F. Kennedy in 1961 during the Vietnam War . Agent Orange was sprayed from planes and helicopters from January 1965 to April 1970. The first area-wide deployment took place on February 7, 1967. The aim was to defoliate the forests in order to uncover hiding places and supply routes for the enemy ( Ho Chi Minh Trail ) and, on the other hand, to expand their own military bases and airfields in the dense jungle. In addition, arable land was sprayed in order to deprive the enemy of the food base.

Agent Orange was manufactured and supplied by, among others, the US companies Dow Chemical and Mobay , a joint venture between Monsanto and Bayer AG . Due to the enormous demand, there were delivery problems. The German company Boehringer Ingelheim and the Czechoslovak company Spolana also supplied intermediate products . According to a 1991 article in the news magazine Der Spiegel , Boehringer Ingelheim supplied 720 tons of trichlorophenolate liquor to Dow Chemical in 1967 . Agent Orange's deployment peaked in 1967 and 1968.

The bulk of the Agent Orange contained a mixture of n - butyl - ester of 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) in equal parts. The active ingredient content was 1033 grams per liter, indicated as ester-free 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. "Agent Orange II", which consisted of a 50:50 mixture of the iso- octyl ester of 2,4,5-T and the n- butyl ester of 2,4-D, was probably also used from 1968 . It had an active ingredient content of 910 grams per liter. "Agent Orange II" delivered 3,591,000 liters to Vietnam. The US armed forces sprayed a total of 45,677,937 liters of Agent Orange. If you add the other herbicides, the number almost doubles to 80 million liters. In 1971 almost a quarter of Vietnam was defoliated as a result.

A mixture called "Modified Orange", which also contained the active ingredient Picloram , was only used as a test.

The last Agent Orange sprayer took off on January 7, 1971. In 1973, the US Air Force still had supplies of 2,338,900 gallons (8,853,672 liters) worth $ 16,540,000. Since the US had a restriction on the use of 2,4,5-T in 1970, which was confirmed by the EPA in 1971, consideration was given to selling the excess Agent Orange as a herbicide in South America. Agent Orange supplies were stored on Johnston Island and at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport , Mississippi . Only now did they begin to determine dioxin levels. The dioxin concentrations varied greatly from barrel to barrel. TCDD concentrations of 6.2 to 14.3 ppm were found in 28 samples at Gulfport , the mean value being 13.25 ppm. In a further investigation, the TCDD levels were between 0.05 and 13.3 ppm. A mean value of 2.99 ppm (mgL −1 ) was derived from this. A mean of 1.91 ppm ± 20% TCDD for Agent Orange was obtained from 200 samples from the camp on Johnston Island. Four samples with the highest levels (17, 22, 33 and 47 ppm) were not taken into account because they were possibly Agent Purple . The remaining stocks were burned in 1977 on board the cremation ship Vulcanus at sea. Estimates of the amount of dioxins released in connection with herbicides in Vietnam range from 106 to over 366 kg.

Damage and problems to this day

A 14-year-old, mentally and physically severely disabled boy, whose malformations are attributed to the parents' exposure to Agent Orange .
A Vietnamese professor from Tu Du Hospital for Obstetrics and Gynecology with a group of children, some of whom are severely disabled. The eyes of the child in the foreground are not developed. The boy on the far left (back) has only one leg.
The Đỗ Đức Địu family lost 12 of 15 children to premature births and stillbirths, possibly a result of “Agent Orange”, a family grave.

The main cause of the immense damage to humans and nature is the by-product TCDD , which is produced in the manufacture of trichlorophenoxyacetic acid . The long-lasting TCDD is created during the synthesis between 300 and 600 degrees Celsius. It is the most toxic of the around 300 dioxins (known as "Seveso poison" since the Seveso accident in 1976 in Italy). Even the smallest amounts can cause severe organ damage and cancer. It disrupts hormonal signaling pathways and leads to severe malformations in children.

According to the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange, more than three million victims of Agent Orange suffer from long-term effects of Agent Orange , especially malformations such as cleft lip and palate and immune deficiencies . Many newborns are born with severe malformations three generations after using Agent Orange . Cancer is also one of the long-term effects. There are currently no studies on the connection between exposure to Agent Orange and tumor development, but dioxin is known to be carcinogenic.

Agronomists from Illinois and Iowa predicted in early 2019 in the specialist journal "Open Journal of Soil Science" that Vietnam would suffer from the long-term effects for decades. On the surface, TCDD disintegrates in one to three years, in the soil and in river and sea sediments it can exist for more than 100 years. TCDD spread via rivers, wind and soil erosion during the monsoons and entered food chains.

Since the 'Pivot to Asia' announced by US President Obama, the US needs new allies against China. That is why the US government has been involved in soil decontamination around the former US base in Da Nang , which was a main hub for Agent Orange , since 2012 . $ 43 million was made available for this. In 2016, the United States' International Development Agency ( USAID ) estimated that extensive dioxin removal would cost 126 to 600 million US dollars for contamination in the metropolis of Bien Hoa alone .

Furthermore, severely malformed and sick children are born. Most victims cannot receive medical care or receive adequate medical care. Vietnam's government invests primarily in the country's economic development. Individuals use donations they collect to build homes and health stations for Agent Orange victims . In 1998, the Friendship Village , built with the help of US war veterans , was opened as a treatment center for victims of defoliant.

Legal processing

US soldiers deployed in the Vietnam War were also affected by damage caused by Agent Orange. When the connection between the health damage and the dioxin was recognized, affected soldiers filed class action lawsuits against several manufacturing companies. On May 7, 1984 there was a preliminary out-of-court settlement; the following year seven firms set up a $ 180 million compensation fund, the highest ever in a settlement. By 1994, $ 197 million had been paid out to 52,000 veterans and survivors.

A group of Vietnamese victims filed a lawsuit against the American manufacturers, which was dismissed in March 2005. In the judge's view, Agent Orange's use was not chemical warfare and therefore not a violation of international law.


In Vietnam, Orange Day (August 10th) has been the official memorial day for the victims of Agent Orange since 2009 .

Agent Orange has always been the subject of songs in pop and rock music. A Californian punk band is called Agent Orange . The Swedish melodic death metal band Dimension Zero carried the band name Agent Orange before they were renamed and the German thrash metal band Sodom released an album under the title Agent Orange , the first song on the album also bears this name. Depeche Mode released an instrumental piece called Agent Orange on Music for the Masses , in which distorted samples of helicopter sounds can be heard at the beginning. The American rapper RA the Rugged Man , whose father was harmed by Agent Orange, takes up the subject in the song "Uncommon Valor: (A Vietnam Story)". In this song he writes, from his father's point of view, the experience of the war and the personal consequences, in the form of disabilities of his children, of Agent Orange.

In the summer of 2011, a case became known in which herbicides were sprayed on rainforest from a plane in Brazil . 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid was also used, one of the active ingredients in Agent Orange.


  • Cordt Schnibben : That was death personally . In: Der Spiegel . No. 31 , 1991, pp. 102-114 ( online ).
  • Cordt Schnibben : Death from Ingelheim . In: Der Spiegel . No. 32 , 1991, pp. 106-120 ( online ).
  • Jeanne Mager Stellman, Steven D. Stellman, Richard Christian, Tracy Weber, Carrie Tomasallo: The extent and patterns of usage of Agent Orange and other herbicides in Vietnam . In: Nature , 422, pp. 681-687.
  • Harald Mark, Michael Zschiesche, Hoang Thi Binh Minh: “Agent Orange” - a legacy of the Vietnam War with serious consequences . In: Altlasten Spectrum , 1/2015, pp. 15–20.


Web links

Commons : Agent Orange  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Andrew Wells-Dang: Agent Orange in Laos: Documentary Evidence. August 2002, accessed December 16, 2017 .
  2. a b c Cordt Schnibben: The death from Ingelheim . In: Der Spiegel . No. 32 , 1991, pp. 106 ff . ( online ).
  3. Vietnam Red Cross urges more aid for Agent Orange casualties. International Committee of the Red Cross, March 14, 2002.
  4. a b Agent Orange Lawsuit filed by Vietnamese Victims (English).
  5. ^ US Department of Veterans Affairs: When and Where Agent Orange Was Used in Vietnam ( Memento of February 4, 2012 in the Internet Archive ).
  6. Otto Langels: 50 years ago: "Agent Orange" used for the first time across the board , article dated February 7, 2017 in the series calendar sheet of Deutschlandfunk
  7. Jump up ↑ Junge Welt: From Aspirin to Zyklon B by Philipp Mimkes.
  8. Andreas Frey: The poison that remains , June 15, 2019
  9. ^ A b c Jeanne Mager Stellman, Steven D. Stellman, Richard Christian, Tracy Weber, Carrie Tomasallo: The extent and patterns of usage of Agent Orange and other herbicides in Vietnam . In: Nature . tape 422 , no. 6933 , March 17, 2003, p. 681-687 , doi : 10.1038 / nature01537 .
  10. ^ Deborah Shapley: Herbicides: agent orange stockpile may go to the South americans. In: Science . Volume 180, Number 4081, April 1973, pp. 43-45, doi : 10.1126 / science.180.4081.43 , PMID 17757968 .
  11. ^ AG Peace Research at the University of Kassel .
  12. Deborah Dainton: Association of victims of agent orange (VAVA) (English)
  13. Kenneth Ray Olson, Lois Wright Morton: Long-Term Fate of Agent Orange and Dioxin TCDD Contaminated Soils and Sediments in Vietnam Hotspots. In: Open Journal of Soil Science. 09, 2019, p. 1, doi : 10.4236 / ojss.2019.91001 .
  14. The USA participates in the elimination of dioxin damage . August 9, 2012
  15. ^ Reconciling Uncle Ho and Uncle Sam ( Memento from May 1, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) .
  16. ^ US Department of Veterans Affairs - What is the Agent Orange Class Action Lawsuit? (English).
  17. Day of remembrance for "Agent Orange" victims . News from August 10, 2009, accessed February 14, 2010.
  18. ^ Cinthia Briseño, Katharina Peters: Amazonas region: Criminals destroy rainforest with Agent Orange , Spiegel Online from July 14, 2011, accessed on April 3, 2013.
  19. Climate Connections: 2.4 D-Based (Agent Orange-type) Herbicides Being Used on the Amazon? ( Memento of May 31, 2012 in the Internet Archive ), July 13, 2011.