Agent Orange is a herbicide and defoliant chemical, one of the "tactical use" Rainbow Herbicides. It is widely known for its use by the U.S. military as part of its chemical warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. It is a mixture of equal parts of two herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. In addition to its damaging environmental effects, traces of dioxin (mainly TCDD, the most toxic of its type) found in the mixture have caused major health problems for many individuals who were exposed.
Up to four million people in Vietnam were exposed to the defoliant. The government of Vietnam says as many as 3 million people have suffered illnesses because of Agent Orange. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems as a result of Agent Orange contamination. The United States government has challenged these figures as being unreliable. The U.S. government has documented higher cases of leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and various kinds of cancer in exposed veterans. An epidemiological study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that there was an impact of birth defects of the children of veterans as a result of Agent Orange, although there was no overall rise in the total number of births with defects of Vietnam Veterans. Agent Orange also caused enormous environmental damage in Vietnam. Over 3,100,000 hectares (31,000 km2 or 11,969 mi2) of forest were defoliated. Defoliants eroded tree cover and seedling forest stock, making reforestation difficult in numerous areas. Animal species diversity sharply reduced in contrast with unsprayed areas.The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam resulted in massive legal consequences. The United Nations ratified United Nations General Assembly Resolution 31/72 and the Environmental Modification Convention. Lawsuits filed on behalf of both U.S. and Vietnamese veterans sought compensation for damages.
Agent Orange was to a lesser extent used outside Vietnam. It was first used by British Armed Forces in Malaysia during the Malayan Emergency. It was also used in neighbouring Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War because forests on the border with Vietnam were used by the Viet Cong. Some countries, such as Canada, carried out testing, while other countries, such as Brazil, used the herbicide to clear out sections of land for agriculture.
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