Celebrate the Facts!
The American public is aware of Agent Orange through scarifying accounts of child deformities in Viet Nam because of known results of the United States military’s use of the compound during the Viet Nam War and war veteran’s ailments; they are much less aware of the widespread use of the component compounds throughout the United States. People sprayed these compounds for weed control in agricultural, governmental, commercial, and residential settings. While there is data on industrial dumping of these compounds, there is very little data on ambient levels of these compounds and resultant health effects due to historic domestic uses, despite its toxicity.
2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxy) is an herbicide developed in the 1940s. 2,4-D was the first widely used herbicide to control broadleaf plants, and it has significantly contributed to modern weed control in agriculture. One of the impurities in the manufacturing process was the production of TCDD, only one of a family of substances called dioxins, but it is the one that has gained the greatest infamy, henceforth called dioxin.
In 1945, Dow Chemical found that combining an equal mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T created a synergistic effect. The United States Department of Agriculture registered 2,4,5-T as an herbicide in 1948, and farmers recognized its usefulness for killing broadleaf plants and controlling weeds in pasturelands to enable desirable grasses to grow. Foresters also used the herbicide to control weeds, underbrush, and shrubs.
TCDD is one of the most toxic substances:
The level of usage for military operations was 20 to 40 times greater than for normal agricultural usages. Fixed-wing aircraft and ground troops sprayed the material, and a C-123 could dump 11,000 lbs. of Agent Orange over 300 acres in four minutes, sprayed to defoliate trees that might hide the enemy.
The dirtiest little secret is that 37 United States chemical companies made 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D and many farmers and other people used these herbicides. The compounds are present under and near former manufacturing facilities, and people sprayed these compounds along railroads and power lines, in agriculture, on lawns, and to control undergrowth in forests.
Trade names products sold that contained 2,4,5-T were Dacamine, Ded-Weed, Farmco Fence Rider, Forron, Inverton 245, Line Rider, T-Nox, Transamine, Brushwood Killer, Brush-Rhap, Brushtox, Esterone, Fruitone A, Reddon, Spontox, Tormona, Tributon, Veon 245, Verton 2T, Visko Rhap Low Volatile Ester, Amine 2,4,5-T for Rice, Super D Weedone, Trinoxol, Weedar, Weedone.
In 1970 the United States Surgeon General reported that the use of 2,4,5-T could be hazardous to human health, and the Department of Agriculture suspended the use of 2,4,5-T around homes, recreation areas, lakes, and ponds, and canceled registration for the domestic use of 2,4,5-T, except for pastures and rangelands. The EPA finally banned the use of 2,4,5-T in the United States in 1979.
The Dow Chemical Company announced in 1983 that it was abandoning its efforts to have 2,4,5-T certified as safe for use as an agricultural chemical. Dow had been contending that 2,4,5-T was safe for use, despite an emergency decision by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1979 to ban most applications in forests and on croplands.
The litigation history behind these compounds is intriguing but boring as it follows the same playbook industry has used to protect itself from liability and maximize shareholder value, similar, say, to that used by tobacco giants, opioid manufacturers, and the like. Thus, they obscure, obfuscate, delay, outspend litigants, and keep settlements silent through out-of-court agreements.
There is no doubt these companies knew very well these were toxic compounds. For instance, Monsanto chief medical officer George Roush admitted under oath to knowing that Monsanto studies into the health effects of dioxins on workers intentionally untruthful for the scientific literature such as to obscure health effects.
The United States government was complicit in concealing information, as the EPA concealed and falsely discredited its studies that found high levels of dioxin in environmental samples and human breast milk following routine use of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T by the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
Dow Chemical Company, Monsanto, Diamond Shamrock Corporation, Hercules, Inc., Uniroyal Inc., H Agricultural & Nutrition Company, and Thompson Chemicals Corporation, the manufacturers of Agent Orange, agreed in 1984 to create a $180 million fund for thousands of Vietnam veterans and their families who said the herbicide had harmed them.
A federal jury found in 1985 that the Monsanto Company was not responsible for the illness of seven retired employees who said they suffered poisoning on the job by dioxin. After three and a half years, one of the longest trials in United States history ended in 1987 with a jury ordering Monsanto to pay about $16 million for failing to warn Sturgeon, Missouri residents of the risks of a dioxin-tainted chemical spill. Monsanto paid $1.2 million to six former workers in 1988 who claim their exposure to a rubber additive at the Monsanto’s Nitro, West Virginia plant gave them a rare form of bladder cancer.
Monsanto settled a class-action lawsuit in 2012 filed on behalf of people who lived, worked, and went to school in the small town of Nitro, West Virginia. For about two decades ending in 1971, Monsanto produced the herbicide 2,4,5-T there. The lawsuit claimed Monsanto polluted the city with toxic substances, including dioxins, and asked the court to award medical monitoring for residents. The settlement agreement required secrecy on the details and sealed the documents associated with the case.
The remaining entities that manufactured the compounds remain quiet about the compounds to minimize liability, a tidy term for avoiding responsibility.
The 2020 Dow Chemical SEC 10k form, while absent the words dioxin or 2,4,5-T, presents their settlement of historic dioxin liability claims for their Midland, Michigan 2,4,5-T manufacturing facility where Dow paid $15 million cash settlement paid to trustee-selected remediation projects and $6.75 million to specified local projects managed by third parties in December 2020. The consent decree further requires the Company to complete 13 additional environmental restoration projects valued at about $77 million.
After a tough buyout battle and intense antitrust scrutiny, Bayer Chemical acquired Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018. The 2020 Bayer Chemical Annual Report is also silent on dioxin.
One might surmise sampling the chemical companies who manufactured the compounds, like Dow Chemical and Monsanto, conducted soil and water sampling to evaluate potential financial exposure, but that likely used confidentiality agreements and nondisclosure agreements to mitigate liability.
Merchants of death find time is their ally as potential claimants die and memories fade. The half-life of TCDD in animals ranges from weeks to years; its half-life on the soil surface ranges between 9–15 years, while the half-life in subsurface soil may range from 25 to 100 years.
Regardless of half-lives, there are conclusions:
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.