the effects of Agent Orange

When? How? Who?
During the second Indochina War, between 1961 and 1971, millions of litres of toxic chemicals, including a herbicide called Agent Orange - which contained dioxin - were sprayed over large parts of Vietnam. According to U.S. defense records, the U.S. Air Force sprayed 72 million litres of toxic chemicals, of which 44 million were Agent Orange - the most toxic chemical discovered so far.

Health effects
Agent Orange and dioxin are especially harmful to human health. Recent laboratory tests of human tissue samples (blood, fat tissue, and breast milk) taken from exposed veterans and people living in sprayed areas revealed levels of dioxin higher tham levels found in people living in non-sprayed areas of Vietnam as well as people living in industrialised countries.

Since 1990, the Agent Orange Victims Fund has been testing dioxin in pooled blood samples from different areas in order to map out the average dioxin levels throughout the country. Blood samples collected from those in northern Vietnam have the lowest dioxin levels (2-3 ppt) and almost all the samples collected from people in southern Vietnam, where the chemicals were sprayed showed a much higher dioxin level.

Most noteworthy are the levels of dioxin in breast milk. The high level of dioxin in nursing mothers shows how contamination spreads and bio-acumulates from mothers to their children.

Epidemiological studies have shown an elevated rate of diseases and disorders in people exposed to dioxin. These include high rates of cancers, abnormalities during pregnancies, neurological and metabolic disorders, and especially birth defects.

How many people?
Millions of Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange during the war. It is estimated that today approximately a million people have disabilities or other health problems associated with Agent Orange, according to a number of pilot studies made in Vietnam. These studies estimate that approximately 100,000 of these adversely affected people are disabled children.

Based on the high number of people in need of assistance and the extremely difficult situation many of them have to face, the Vietnam Red Cross (VNRC) has set up a special fund and taken the lead to mobilise support in order to provide humanitarian assistance.

The people affected by Agent Orange are not only suffering from severe disabilities and a multitude of other health problems, but also from the associated effects of not being able to integrate into normal life. Many children cannot go to school and their parents are often unable to work.

And the environment?
The consequences of spraying these toxic chemicals continue to have devastating effects on the environment. Millions of litres of Agent Orange caused a great ecological imbalance, destroying timber, wild animals and forest products. Without forest cover to retain water, flooding in the rainy season and drought in the dry season has adversely affected agricultural production. Topsoil is easily washed away, further hindering forest recovery. While the uplands have been and continue to be eroded, the lowlands have become choked with sediment, further increasing the threat of flooding.

The Agent Orange Victims Fund (AGORAVIF) works to support families and children affected by Dow's chemicals. You can find out more and donate to their fund by visiting This information was adapted from Mac Thi Hoa's original - she works with the victims at one of the clinics set up by AGORAVIF in southern Vietnam.

Diseases and conditions linked to Agent Orange

soft tissue sarcoma

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Hodgkin’s disease


respiratory cancers (including cancers of the lung, larynx, trachea & bronchus)

prostate cancer

multiple myeloma

peripheral neuropathy
(acute or subacute)

spina bifida

porphyria cutanea tarda

increased rate of primary liver cancer & oropharynx cancer


still birth

premature birth

hyditiform mole & choriocarcinoma




cerebral palsy

higher rates of infant mortality

contaminated breast milk

loss of appetite


weight loss



impaired vision & hearing


liver cirrhosis

immune-deficiency: increased rates of infectious diseases & malaria

intestinal diseases: gastric ulcers, gastroduodenitis


arteriolosclerosis, hypertension & cerebral circulation disorders