June 20, 1980

Agent Orange: what's to be done by whom?

JAMA. 1980;243(23):2375-2379. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03300490007004

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Controversy continues about the effects of dioxincontaining herbicides on human health. What's more, another controversy is developing about the best way to find some answers. The latter centers on an Air Force study of servicemen who sprayed Agent Orange defoliant in Southeast Asia to deny cover and crops to the enemy.

The study, which is just starting, is designed to answer the question of whether there have been, are now, or will be in the reasonably foreseeable future any adverse health effects among Ranch Hand personnel who repeatedly were exposed to Agent Orange. (Ranch Hand is the name of the eight-year military program; approximately 1,200 personnel were involved in loading and spraying herbicides from aircraft.) All the herbicides had "color-coded" names; Agent Orange was used most often.

Recently, however, a panel of the National Research Council (NRC) asserted that there are "major weaknesses" in the design of this study that