Exposure to Agent Orange, a case of “ecocide”, Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force sprayed more than 80 million litres of Agent Orange and other herbicides contaminated with dioxin, a deadly compound that continues to poison the land, the rivers, the ocean and the people.


The Agent Orange was a chemical developed mainly by Monsanto and Dow Chemical. It is a  mixture of two common herbicides (2,4-D and 2,4,5-T ) that were used separately in the United States since the late 1940s. The name was given because of the color of the orange-striped barrels in which it was shipped.  The Dioxin is the deadly toxin in Agent Orange and the responsible for countless health damages. During the Vietnam War (1955-1975) the United States military forces used the Agent Orange to eliminate forest cover and crops in order to deprive of food and hiding places to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops (Vietnamese communists also known as the National Liberation Front). From 1961 to 1972 the US military forces sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million acres of land in South Vietnam. This operations was called the Operation Ranch Hand.  From this operation, the term ecocide (Zierler, 2011) was born to denounce the environmental destructions and potential damage. The first test spraying occurred August 10, 1961.  The chemicals were sprayed from aircraft contaminating soil, water, air. Areas of Laos and Cambodia near the Vietnam border were also impacted.. Dioxin later revealed to cause serious health issues among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as at a larger scale among the Vietnamese population. Surviving Vietnam veterans in the United States, after many years of organized action, have finally achieved compensation from U.S government.

See more...
Basic Data
NameExposure to Agent Orange, a case of “ecocide”, Vietnam
SiteTây Nam Bộ ( South-western region)
Accuracy of LocationLOW country/state level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Deforestation
Military installations
Chemical industries
Specific CommoditiesLand
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project Details-Agent Orange was a herbicide that U.S. Forces sprayed over the rural landscape in Vietnam from 1961 to 1971 to defoliate trees and shrubs and kill food crops that were providing cover and food to opposition forces.

-The Dioxin is the deadly toxin in Agent Orange. It was a 50/50 mixture of two herbicides: 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T.

-Dioxin chemical name is 2,3,7,8-tetrachloro-dibenzo-para-dioxin, or TCDD.

-About 80 million litres of toxic chemicals were sprayed over the south of Vietnam.

- According with the Vietnam Red Cross the chemical has affected 3 million of Vietnamese, including at least 150,000 children.

-Up to now, babies in Vietnam are still being born with birth defects.

- U.S. veterans were also exposed to the herbicide.

Project Area (in hectares)2,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Populationaround 5,000,000 people have being exposed to the agent orange
Start Date10/08/1961
Company Names or State EnterprisesDow Chemical Company from United States of America
Monsanto Corporation (Monsanto Co) from United States of America
Diamond Shamrock from United States of America
Uniroyal Chemical Company from United States of America
Thompson Chemicals & Solvents from United States of America
Hercules Inc from United States of America
Relevant government actorsGovernment of United States, US Army, Government of Vietnam.
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersSupporters: Red Cross International, Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA); Medical and Scientific Aid for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (MSAVLC). Catholic Religious group,
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Shareholder/financial activism.
Creation of NGO (VAVA)
*Finantial activism : the creation of the Vietnam Agent Orange Victims Fund created by the RedCRoss
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Genetic contamination
OtherErosion caused by loss of tree cover and loss of seedling forest stock meant that reforestation was difficult (or impossible) in many areas.

*Impact in the whole foodchain through animals and fish which feed in the contaminated areas.
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other Health impacts
Potential: Malnutrition, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
OtherChemicals could be associated with serious health issues such as muscular dysfunction, inflammation, birth defects, nervous system disorders and even the development of various cancers.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Specific impacts on women, Displacement, Other socio-economic impacts, Loss of livelihood
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
OtherSpecific impacts on children. Rural-to-urban migration rates dramatically increased in South Vietnam
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Development of AlternativesAlternatives: To assist those who have been affected Vietnamese have created "peace villages", to give victims medical and psychological help.


-That the chemical “hot spots” must be cleaned up in Vietnam.

-Economic compensations for victims in Vietnam.

-To repair ecological damage
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The use of Agent Orange ended in the 1970s, it is no longer in use. However, the dioxin (the main component) continues to have harmful impact (both humans and ecosystems) today and no compensation of the US government to Vietnamese victims has taken place.
Sources and Materials

Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare or Geneva Protocol
[click to view]

Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 (first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes in the body of secular international law)


David Zierler (2011) The Invention of Ecocide: Agent Orange, Vietnam, and the Scientists Who Changed the Way We Think About the Environment

Peter Sills (2014) Toxic War: The Story of Agent Orange

Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange and U.S.-Vietnam Relations
[click to view]


Vietnam’s horrific legacy: The children of Agent Orange
[click to view]

The Struggle Continues: Seeking Compensation for Vietnamese Agent Orange Victims, 52 years on
[click to view]

Agent Orange
[click to view]

Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA)
[click to view]

What is Agent Orange? The Aspen Istitute
[click to view]

Agent of suffering, The Guardian.
[click to view]

Media Links

Toxic Rain - The Legacy of Agent Orange
[click to view]

The Dark Shadow of Agent Orange | Retro Report | The New York Times
[click to view]

Other Documents

Suffering from a distorted reality, Nguyen Tran Ho, 11, gazes out from his bed Source: Brian Dricscoll
[click to view]

Helicopter spraying agent orange in Vietnam Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Agent_Orange#/media/File:US­Huey- helicopter­spraying­Agent­Orange­in­Vietnam.jpg
[click to view]

Before and after Agent Orange
[click to view]

Other Comments-The use of the agent orange by the US Army in Vietnam was inspired in "The Malayan Emergency" when the British used herbicides and defoliants as an anti-guerrilla operation against the Malayan National Liberation Army (Malasia) between 1948-1960.

-Agent Orange has also being used or proved in Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Laos, Canada, Guam, South Korea, New Zeland, Japan, Thailand, United States, Phillipines and the US. controlled island Johnston Atoll.
Meta Information
ContributorGrettel Navas, ENVJustice Project
Last update16/01/2017