Agent Orange Update

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

A new report says evidence suggests a possible link between chemicals used during the Vietnam War and one form of the disease diabetes. However, the report did not say a clear link had been established.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences prepared the report for the American government. It is the latest in a series of reports examining the effects of a chemical called Agent Orange on Americans who served in Vietnam.

During the war, American military forces attempted to destroy the natural hiding places of enemy forces. They sprayed about seventy-two million liters of chemicals to kill plant growth over what was then South Vietnam. They sprayed the chemicals between Nineteen-Sixty-Two and Nineteen-Seventy-One.

Most of the chemical mixtures contained dioxin. Dioxin is a substance known to cause cancer and birth defects in animals. The chemical mixture used most often was called Agent Orange.

Many Americans who fought in Vietnam experienced health problems after the war. Hundreds of the veterans blamed Agent Orange. Earlier studies have shown a link between Agent Orange and the development of cancers and some diseases.

A committee of the Institute of Medicine prepared the new report. Committee members looked for a link between the chemicals used in Vietnam and the development of adult-onset diabetes. This form of the disease also is known as Type Two diabetes.

Type Two diabetes results when something goes wrong with the way insulin is produced or used in the body. Insulin is a hormone necessary to change sugar and other food into energy. Over time, high sugar levels in the blood may cause damage to the eyes, kidneys, nervous system or heart.

The report says the committee found limited or suggested evidence of a link between Agent Orange and diabetes. However, it says the finding is not strong.

Committee chair David Tollerud said any increased danger from the wartime chemicals appears to be small. He says conditions known to increase the risk of diabetes have a much greater influence on a person's health. Those conditions include family members with diabetes, a lack of physical activity and higher than normal body weight.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by George Grow.

Voice of America Special English