What was in Agent Orange

Agent Orange - the long shadow of the Vietnam War

Agent Orange refers to a chemical defoliant that was used extensively by the US Air Force between 1962 and 1971 in the Vietnam War. The aim was to defoliate the dense forests in order to uncover the hiding places and supply routes of the enemy (Viet Cong). In addition, airplanes and helicopters were sprayed on arable land in order to deprive the Viet Cong of their food sources.

The designation Agent Orange has nothing to do with espionage, it comes from the orange stripes that were marked on the barrels. agent means in this context Active ingredient. The different colored herbicides were called accordingly Agent Blue, Agent Green, Agent Pink, Agent Purple or Agent White.

The US armed forces carried out more than 6000 missions with the various defoliants during the war. This made a total of 45,677,937 litersAgent Orange sprayed.

What was Agent Orange made of?

The defoliants used were contaminated with the chlorine-containing toxin 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD) due to the manufacturing process.

Even three generations after TCDD use, many newborns are born with severe malformations.

TCDD is considered to be the most toxic representative of the dioxins. Since a devastating accident in an Italian chemical plant in 1976, the TCDD that was also released there is also known as Seveso poison designated. Estimates of the total quantities of dioxin released in Vietnam vary between 106 and over 300 kg.

How does TCDD work?

Contact with TCDD may initially be too Chlorine acne cause a pox-like skin lesion on the face, which is considered the first symptom of severe dioxin poisoning. Dioxin poisoning can lead directly to severe organ damage, especially to the liver.

But TCDD also works teratogenicSo it harms the unborn child in the womb. Even three generations after the mission, many newborns are born in Vietnam with severe malformations or illnesses.

An estimated two to four million people are affected by the long-term effects, and at least 100,000 children were born with disabilities.

In addition to the serious malformations, more than 20 diseases are considered to be a direct result of Agent Orangeincluding cleft lip and palate, cleft spine, immune deficiencies, nervous disorders, diabetes and Parkinson's.

The sprayed poison can still be found in the food cycle more than 45 years after the end of the war.

Cancers such as leukemia, prostate cancer and others are also considered to be long-term effects of Agent Orange. A direct connection between tumor formations and Agent Orange cannot be detected, but dioxin has been shown to be carcinogenic.

In addition, TCDD is very persistent, so it stays in the environment for a very long time. That is why the sprayed poison can still be found in the soil and water, and thus in the food cycle, more than 45 years after the end of the war.

Who Made Agent Orange?

Agent Orange was manufactured and supplied for the US armed forces by, among others, the US companies Dow Chemical and Monsanto, which is now part of the Bayer Group.

The most intense phase of the Vietnam War between 1967 and 1968 was also the most Agent Orange sprayed. This led to delivery bottlenecks, so that intermediate products from the Czech chemical company Spolana were also purchased for production. Dow Chemical also negotiated with the German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim about a license for a T-acid production process in order to use it for military purposes. However, Boehringer Ingelheim rejects the allegation that it contributed directly or indirectly, for example through preliminary products or raw materials, to the production of Agent Orange. The license agreement with Dow Chemical did not materialize.

Is Agent Orange legally considered a chemical weapon?

Due to the large-scale deployment, US soldiers were also included Agent Orange sprayed. When a connection between the damage to health and the dioxin was recognized, the soldiers concerned filed class action lawsuits against several manufacturing companies.

So far, the Vietnamese victims have not received any compensation

In 1984 there was an out-of-court settlement. The following year, seven companies set up a $ 180 million fund for compensation payments. That was the highest sum ever paid in a settlement to date.

Over the next decade, the fund paid $ 197 million to 52,000 veterans and survivors.

The Vietnamese victims, on the other hand, have not received any compensation to this day. A related class action lawsuit in the United States was dismissed in 2005. The use of Agent Orange was "not chemical warfare" and therefore not a violation of international law.

The article was last updated on May 11, 2021 and a statement from Boehringer Ingelheim was added.


  • Vietnam: From Poor House to Economic Miracle

    The city that never stands still

    Ho Chi Minh City (HCMS for short, formerly Saigon), the metropolis of 13 million people in southern Vietnam, is the country's economic center. By 2050 Vietnam could be the 20th largest economy in the world (currently it is 32nd), which assumes an average GDP growth of five percent annually. At the moment it is just under seven percent.

  • Vietnam: From Poor House to Economic Miracle

    Unmistakable upswing

    Endless avalanches of sheet metal from scooters pour into the streets from early in the morning until late in the evening. In HCMS alone there are allegedly more than seven million of the nimble scooters, nationwide there are said to be 45 million. Used ones start at $ 150. Per capita income has increased more than sixfold since the 1980s.

  • Vietnam: From Poor House to Economic Miracle

    Small startup sector, big ambitions

    Vietnam's burgeoning dynamic tech scene offers many young talents a chance, for example at the four-year-old startup NFQ Asia. A developer there earns between 1500 and 2500 US dollars a month, around fifteen times the average monthly salary. "Vietnamese are hungry for success and work very, very hard," says NFQ Asia founder Lars Jankowfsky.

  • Vietnam: From Poor House to Economic Miracle

    Working flat out on traffic solutions

    Vietnam's first metro is supposed to prevent the total traffic gridlock in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In HCMS, line 1 is expected to connect the future central hub Ben Thanh-Markt with Suoi Tien almost 20 kilometers to the northeast from the end of 2020. The Japanese tunnel boring machine needed almost 80 days for the 781 meter long first tube (pictured).

  • Vietnam: From Poor House to Economic Miracle

    Well-deserved break

    Supposedly 500 workers toil for the subway project in HCMS, most of them underground in eight-hour shifts. 90 percent are Vietnamese, every fifth allegedly female. Daily earnings are between $ 15 and $ 20. For the foreseeable future, however, clogged intersections and exhaust fumes will continue to dominate the everyday lives of millions of Vietnamese.

  • Vietnam: From Poor House to Economic Miracle

    Between tradition and modernity

    A young Vietnamese sits on sacks of coffee beans in a coffee plantation near Da Lạt, the capital of Lam Dong Province in the central mountainous region of South Vietnam. After Brazil, Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world.

  • Vietnam: From Poor House to Economic Miracle

    "City of Eternal Spring"

    Da Lạt is located on the Xuan Huong reservoir around 300 kilometers northeast of HCMS and is surrounded by pine forests, lakes and waterfalls. The "City of Eternal Spring" has a particularly temperate climate and is known for its Arabica coffee, vegetable growing and floriculture, among other things.

  • Vietnam: From Poor House to Economic Miracle

    Underestimated shadow economy

    Tour guides, street vendors, corner shop owners, farmers - they are all part of the so-called informal sector, which includes activities such as making and selling products in local markets and simple services. Depending on the estimate, up to 78 percent of the working population could work in the shadow economy.

  • Vietnam: From Poor House to Economic Miracle

    Amazing pragmatism

    The inhabitants of Vietnam are true artists of survival and are probably the country's greatest asset: They have a talent for improvisation, are resilient, pragmatic, capable of learning, entrepreneurial and optimistic. They are also young: the average age of the Vietnamese is 31 years old, 13 years below the German average; 60 percent of the population is under 35.

    Author: Benjamin Bathke