When we think of Agent Orange and other tactical herbicide use, we immediately think Vietnam, Thailand and Korea. The U.S. government regulations on Agent Orange and related VA compensation benefits have conditioned us to forget that Agent Orange and other tactical herbicides were not used just in the Southeast Asian theatre, but also quite close to home—in the continental United States.
Although not officially used until the Vietnam War (1961 – 1971), tactical herbicides began their development in the 1940s in the United States. In response to the Department of Defense’s request, the University of Chicago studied the effects of a new series of compounds, especially 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-triclorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), on cereal grains and broadleaf crops. From this research came the idea to use such compounds for vegetation control in a military setting. In 1945, the Army tested these compounds at the Bushnell Army Air Field in Florida. Then in 1952, the Department of the Army’s Chemical Corps Biological Laboratories at Camp Detrick (later renamed Fort Detrick), Maryland, set out to develop a program for aerial spray equipment and herbicide formations to be used in the Korean Conflict. While the herbicide compounds were never used during the Korean Conflict, the equipment and chemicals continued to be developed for future use.
By 1961, the Tactical Herbicide Spray Systems had been developed and were approved to be tested in Vietnam. This entered the Initial Program Development Phase which lasted from October 1961 to March 1965. This phase was successful, so the Department of Defense approved tactical herbicides as a major combat role from March 1965 to January 1971. The herbicides were also used in Korea in 1968.
Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, herbicides and equipment were tested in many locations throughout the United States. After the initial testing and approval stages of the herbicide use, more research was done to improve spraying equipment and the effectiveness of the herbicide compounds. Accordingly, they were tested on different geographical locations in the United States that were applicable to the subtropical and tropical conditions found in Vietnam. The chart below gives a brief description of the purpose of testing at sites throughout the US.
|February – April 1945
|Bushnell Army Air Field
|Preliminary screening of tropical plants obtained from the Plant Introduction Garden.
|July – August 1951
|USDA Station, Brawley
|Evaluated use of compounds as anti-crop agents
|Nov – Dec 1952
Mar – April 1953
|Tested out the Large Capacity Spray System. Spray area: 8,700 acres.
|July – Aug 1953
|USDA Experimental Fields, Gallatin Valley, Bozeman
|Evaluated phenoxy herbicides’ effectiveness on narrow leaf grain crops. Spray area: 139 acres
|June – July 1953
|Area B, Fort Detrick
|Determined crop yield data when sprays were applied
|April 1945 – Sept 1957
|Evaluated effectiveness of compounds on coniferous and deciduous trees native to the Fort Ritchie Reservation
|May 1951 – Mar 1959
|Tested various equipment, studied effects of altitude and airspeed on the droplet behavior of chemical anti-crop agents.
|May – Oct 1959
|Evaluated operational use of compounds in defoliating or killing trees growing in an area of about 4 square miles of the impact zone. Spray area: 2,560 acres
|Mar 1962 – Jan 1971
|Eglin AFB, Test Area C-52A
|Trained aircrews; developed interface between aircraft and spray equipment; tested and evaluated the entire aerial spray system
|1963 – 1964
|Fort Ritchie, Fort Meade
|Ft. Detrick screened effectiveness of compounds contractually produced by major U.S. pesticide producers. Main area of focus was effectiveness of compounds on trees.
|Sept – Oct 1964
|Dugway Proving Ground
|Determined performance reliability, maintenance requirements, and suitability of the Army Interim Defoliant System for the MOHAWK aircraft.
|May 1964 – Oct 1965
|GA Power Right-of-Way;
TN Valley Authority Power Right-of-Way
|Tested Herbicides Purple and Orange on 65 acres of swamp in GA, and 65 acres of mountains in TN. These sites were sprayed via helicopter.
|May 1965 – May 1966
|Aberdeen Proving Grnd
|Tested new spraying apparatus. Compounds used on various types of trees.
|May – Sept 1965
|Tested Herbicides Purple & Orange on deciduous brush in attempts to improve herbicidal properties.
|Tidewater AG Systems Co.
|Texted newly developed spray nozzles for potential use in Operation Ranch Hand
|Mar 1963 – June 1967
|Llano; Refugio; Victoria; Carlos; Livingston
|Advanced Research Projects Agency
|Used TX as testing ground due to the varied environmental conditions that are also common to Southeast Asia and other tropical regions. Compounds were tested on a variety of woody species.
|July – Oct 1967
|Plant Science Laboratories
|Evaluated desiccants and herbicidal mixtures on rapidity of action as defoliants, safety and ease of handling, compatibility of systems, and low toxicity to man and wildlife.
|Aug 17 – Nov 7 1969
|The Outport, Gulfport
|San Antonio Air Materiel Area
|Used as a temporary location for receipt and storage of additional drums of herbicides. Hurricane Camille scattered 1,466 drums of Herbicides Orange & Blue throughout the port area and into the water.
|Apr 1972 – Mar 1979
Kansas State University
Dugway Proving Grnds
Oregon State University
Washington State Univs
|USAF Scientific Board – Ad Hoc Committee for the Disposal of Herbicide Orange
|5 climatically and environmentally different areas of the US were sampled to determine whether or not massive quantities of left-over Herbicide Orange could be buried as means of disposal.
All of the above locations have been provided by the Department of Defense. In a 2006 report to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Dr. Alvin Young describes in great detail how herbicides were developed, where testing occurred, and how the Department of Defense disposed of the millions of gallons of left-over herbicide.
The bottom line is this: you did not have to be overseas to be exposed to Agent Orange and other tactical herbicides. Veterans at certain forts and military installations were exposed to the chemicals even though they never deployed. Although the US government regulations are directed specifically toward Vietnam veterans, it is not impossible or unheard-of to obtain compensation for conditions that were developed secondary to Agent Orange exposure at one of those sites. The key is to get a doctor’s opinion that links your current conditions to your period of service at one of the testing sites.
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