Manufactured Bane of Humanity: Agent Orange

One of the numerous operations in order to clear the vegetation utilizing Agent Orange

Like sarin gas and ricin, Agent Orange is a commonly known chemical weapon due to its controversial usage during the Vietnam War. However, Agent Orange’s intended targets are not human beings; instead, the substance’s purpose is to act as an effective herbicide. Due to its widespread usage during the Vietnam War, veterans from the war and the local vietnamese population were affected by Agent Orange’s deleterious effects on humans. Although Agent Orange is no longer utilized due to its dangerous nature,generations can still feel the after-effects of its usage in Vietnam more than 40 years ago.

An orange barrel containing equal amounts of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. Due to the orange color of the barrel, the herbicide was nicknamed “Agent Orange.”

The name, Agent Orange, began as a nickname given to the chemical agent by military personnel because of orange-colored stripes  located on the barrels which contained Agent Orange. Agent Orange is actually a mixture of equal amounts of 2,45-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T)and 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D). Both of these are phenoxy herbicides, which affect the growth hormone indoleacetic acid (IAA). When plants are exposed to phenoxy herbicides, they undergo rapid, uncontrolled growth and this eventually kills the plants. In theory, these phenoxy herbicides should have little to no effect on humans; however, there was a significant amount of data connecting 2,4,5-T to adverse side effects and harm for exposed humans.

in 1969, scientists discovered that the 2,4,5-T was contaminated with dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin or TCDD and that it had caused these unexplained adverse side effects. TCDD wasaccidently created as a byproduct due to the incomplete combustion reaction during the production of 2,4,5-T. Due to exposure to TCDD during the production and utilization of phenoxy herbicides, more than 18,000 factory workers and sprayers had perished. The World Health Organization states that dioxins like TCDD are lethal to human beings as they can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, interference with hormone production and finally, cancer. Many concluded that TCDD was “perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man.

A graph which details the numerous negative physiological effects due to Agent Orange

The lethality behind TCDD is not due to its effectiveness but its versatility; TCDD affects numerous different metabolic processes and describing the researched effects of TCDD would take hours. Therefore, only one of TCDD’s effects  will be discussed: the effects of TCDD on thyroid hormone metabolism and function in victims of TCDD poisoning. One scientific study discovered that chronic exposure to TCDD had led to a decrease in thyroid hormones and these altered levels of hormones could promote cancer. Although this specific aspect of TCDD in relationship to thyroid hormones has been explained, TCDD diversified effects on the human body is still being studied and further research will be fruitful in diagnosing, treating and curing TCDD production.

Chemical process behind the manufacturing of Agent Orange

Even though Agent Orange was not utilized as a  weapon specifically against human beings, its toxic byproduct, TCDD, has caused numerous casualties. After the Vietnam War, thousands of veterans and affected Vietnamese faced severe medical conditions as well as deformities in their newborn children. The aftermath was gruesome, and currently, TCDD production as a chemical weapon has not been initiated by any country. However, in order to keep this potentially catastrophic chemical weapon from being used,more legislation towards more restrictions on the production and usage of chemical weapons is necessary. However, the first step towards solving this problem is by spreading awareness and to prevent our generation and future generations from making the same mistake.

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