From 1971-1982, Air Force reservists, who flew in 34 dioxin-contaminated aircraft used to spray Agent Orange and returned to the U.S. following discontinuation of the herbicide spraying operations in the Vietnam War, were exposed to greater levels of dioxin than previously acknowledged, according to a study published today in Environmental Research by senior author Jeanne Mager Stellman, PhD, professor emerita at the Mailman School of Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management.
“These findings are important because they describe a previously unrecognized source of exposure to dioxin that has health significance to those who engaged in the transport work using these aircraft,” according to Dr. Stellman and Peter A. Lurker, PhD, PE, CIH, an environmental engineer with many years of experience evaluating environmental exposures in the Air Force.
During the Vietnam War, in an operation known as “Operation Ranch Hand,” approximately 20 million gallons of herbicides, including around 10.5 million gallons of dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange, were sprayed by 34 C-123 aircraft. These aircraft were subsequently returned to the U.S. and were used by Air Force reserve units between 1971 and 1982 for transport operations. After many years without monitoring, tests revealed the presence of dioxin also known as TCDD. All but three of the aircraft were smelted down in 2009.
The Air Force and Department of Veterans Affairs have previously denied benefits to these crew members. Current policies stipulate that “non-biologically available dried residues” of chemical herbicides and dioxin would not have led to meaningful exposures to flight crew and maintenance personnel, who are therefore ineligible for Agent Orange-related benefits or medical examinations and treatment. Researchers estimated dioxin body burden using modeling algorithms developed by the US Army and data derived from surface wipe samples collected from aircraft used in Operation Ranch Hand.
“… Aircraft occupants would have been exposed to airborne dioxin-contaminated dust as well as come into direct skin contact, and our models show that the level of exposure is likely to have exceeded several available exposure guidelines.”
The USA was not doing well fighting North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in the jungle. Some in the US wanted to use nukes to clear the jungles, but instead they sprayed Agent Orange, a mixture of powerful and toxic plant killers to expose enemy positions. The military came to regret this because thousands of US vets were exposed and suffered from lifelong serious health issues which resulted in massive lawsuits.
Agent Orange was a powerful mixture of chemical defoliants used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, as well as crops that might be used to feed them. The U.S. program of defoliation, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. Agent Orange, which contained the chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used of the herbicide mixtures, and the most effective. It was later revealed to cause serious health issues–including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer–among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population.
… According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Agent Orange contained “minute traces” of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), more commonly known as dioxin. Through studies done on laboratory animals, dioxin has been shown to be highly toxic even in minute doses; human exposure to the chemical could be associated with serious health issues such as muscular dysfunction, inflammation, birth defects, nervous system disorders and even the development of various cancers.
“The cause or causes of myeloma are unknown, but there is some evidence to support a number of theories of its origin, including viral, genetic, and exposure to toxic chemicals, the most notable being Agent Orange.” – UCSF