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Agent Orange linked to some veterans' ills.

Agent Orange linked to some veterans' ills

An epidemiologic study of military veterans for the first time strongly links health problems with exposure to dioxintainted defoliating herbicides--including Agent Orange -- used in Vietnam. The effects show a dose-response relationship with respect to estimated exposures. Moreover, the conditions are consistent with reports of animals and other human populations exposed to dioxins, the researchers reported this week at an American Public Health Association meeting in Boston.

The United States sprayed some 10 million gallons of defoliant on Vietnam during the war, notes Jeanne M. Stellman of Columbia University in New York City, one of the study's authors. Stellman is an independent adviser to the federal court in a $180 million settlement between makers of Agent Orange and veterans claiming injury from it (SN: 1/26/85, p.57). She also has studied Defense Department records for 86 percent of the defoliants' use -- detailing how much was used, where and when -- as well as troop-movement data for 250,000 U.S. servicemen. With her husband, Steven Stellman, New York City's assistant commissioner of health for epidemiology, she developed a method for estimating an individual's Agent Orange exposure.

Financed by the American Legion, the study was based on detailed surveys of 6,810 randomly selected Legion members. While all respondents served during the Vietnam-war era, only two-fifths saw duty in Southeast Asia.

The Stellman data show that veterans exposed to herbicides faced an increased risk of elevated blood pressure, benign fatty tumors, a wife's miscarriage, visual andskin sensitivity to light and symptoms of depression, as compared with veterans who were not exposed. The researchers say they adjusted for combat stress in their analysis. They caution, however, against putting too much weight on the exact magnitude of the risk increases at this time. Rather, they say, their findings' high statistical significance and strong dose-response relationship support a link between herbicide exposure and adverse health effects. (Study design didn't allow assessment of cancer and birth-defects risks.)

Their report and four related Stellman papers in the December ENIVORNMENTAL RESEARCH "represent a landmark in veterans health research and occupational epidemiology," says Michael Gochfeld of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J. The federal government, he notes in an accompanying editorial, has refused to conduct congressionally mandated health studies of veterans, arguing that "since exposure cannot be well documented, the study was not feasible." The new studies refute that argument, he says.
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Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 19, 1988
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