Birth Defects Caused by Agent Orange
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During the Vietnamese War between 1961 and 1971 the United States armed forces engaged in a massive defoliation and crop destruction campaign named Operation Ranch Hand. Agent Orange, an herbicide so named because of the orange color of its storage barrels, was the most heavily used herbicide of the campaign. In addition to military personnel from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the United States, an estimated 4.8 million Vietnamese civilians were exposed to herbicides during the war. In the years following the war reports of increased rates of birth defects in the offspring of United States military personnel, Vietnamese soldiers, and civilians prompted several studies to explore the connection between Agent Orange exposure and birth defects. Studies performed over three decades by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Australian government, and Vietnamese researchers obtained mixed results. Several of these studies found increased rates of neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. However, despite large sample sizes in many of these studies, the inherently low incidence of birth defects resulted in weak statistical correlations with Agent Orange exposure. Furthermore, the publication of statistically significant, yet potentially biased findings by Vietnamese research agencies definitively linking Agent Orange exposure and birth defects has fueled global scientific debate.