Effects of Agent Orange Continue Decades After Vietnam


(Beyond Pesticides, August 30, 2006)

Kerry Ryan, a symbol in the fight against Agent Orange, died Monday at 35 of kidney failure. Her father, Michael Ryan, a Vietnam War veteran, attributes her battle with 22 major birth defects to his exposure to the chemical while serving in the war. Mr. Ryan said, “She belongs on the wall in Washington, D.C. She is a casualty of Vietnam the same as any man on there.”

Kerry’s story first became public when the Ryan’s were named in a 1979 class-action lawsuit against Dow Chemical, one of the manufacturers of Agent Orange. The suit was ultimately settled for $180 million, but did not directly benefit the Ryan’s. Her family also wrote a book in 1982, called Kelly: Agent Orange and an American Family.

Kelly’s death comes less than a week after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Vietnam veterans who patrolled offshore can now claim disability benefits due to exposure to Agent Orange. The ruling stated that the current regulations over such benefits were unclear, particularly in the distinction between land-based and sea-based veterans. As Judge William A. Moorman wrote, “Veterans serving on vessels in close proximity to land would have the same risk of exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange as veterans serving on adjacent land, or an even greater risk than that borne by those veterans who may have visited and set foot on the land of the Republic of Vietnam only.” While the Veterans Affairs Department said that it was unsure how many veterans would be affected by the ruling or what the cost might be, it is expected to expand coverage to thousands more who served in Vietnam.

Agent Orange is infamous for its effects on millions of soldiers and civilians during the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands of children have been affected by their parents’ exposure to the chemical, and like Kerry, showed a wide range of symptoms. It has been linked to Lukemia, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy. While application of Agent Orange may be less prevalent, its sister-chemicals, such as 2, 4-D, are still commonly used.

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