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Daily News Archive
From April 20, 2001

Agent Orange Exposure Linked to Leukemia in Veterans' Children

According to a new report released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences, evidence shows a link between Agent Orange, an herbicide used extensively during the Vietnam War, and the development of a form of leukemia in veterans' children. This report is the latest in a series examining the impact of Agent Orange on human health. Agent Orange is a 50-50 mixture of the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. All uses for 2,4,5-T were cancelled in 1985, however, 2,4-D is still one of the most widely used herbicides on lawns, school grounds and parks.

Using the most recent scientific data, the committee that wrote the report evaluated whether veterans' exposure to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange and other herbicides used in Vietnam, some of which contain dioxin, is linked with the development of several types of cancer and other health problems in veterans and their children. The evaluation revealed new evidence of an association with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) in veterans' children.

A review of current literature, which included two major studies published last year, supported the new finding about AML, the committee said. Although two studies lacked direct measures of exposure, the research was persuasive for several reasons. For example, both studies were conducted with Vietnam veterans, and the associations were specifically with AML -- and not other forms of childhood leukemia. In addition, the strongest link was seen in children diagnosed at the youngest ages, a pattern that suggests that the cause of a disease stems from a parent. A third study found that the development of AML was more likely in the children of men who used pesticides or herbicides in their work.

Leukemia is the most common type of childhood cancer. Acute myelogenous leukemia is a rapidly spreading form that originates in certain bone marrow cells. The disease accounts for about 8 percent of all childhood cancers. Little is known about what causes such diseases in children, how parental chemical exposures affect their offspring, or potential environmental risk factors for kids, the report notes.

According to the Washington Post, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi said he will seek congressional authority to make disability payments to veterans' children
who may have survived the disease. So far, the government recognizes nine diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure, including spina bifida, lung cancer and prostate cancer. Adult-onset diabetes is about to be added. For purposes of compensation, the Department of Veterans Affairs assumes that every person who served in Vietnam was exposed to Agent Orange. A veteran claiming disability from an officially herbicide-linked ailment doesn't have to prove exposure.

In related news, George W. Bush, with his environmental record under fire and Earth Day rapidly approaching, announced yesterday that he will sign and ask the Senate to ratify a treaty to ban or reduce the use of 12 persistent organic pollutants (POPs), chemicals like PCBs and pesticides that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and genetic abnormalities in humans and wildlife. The treaty was negotiated for the U.S. by the Clinton administration and will not have much direct impact on the U.S., where the 12 POPs have mostly been phased out already.