Agent Orange and the Vietnamese: the persistence of elevated dioxin levels in human tissues

Am J Public Health. 1995 Apr;85(4):516-22. doi: 10.2105/ajph.85.4.516.


Objectives: The largest known dioxin contamination occurred between 1962 and 1970, when 12 million gallons of Agent Orange, a defoliant mixture contaminated with a form of the most toxic dioxin, were sprayed over southern and central Vietnam. Studies were performed to determine if elevated dioxin levels persist in Vietnamese living in the south of Vietnam.

Methods: With gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy, human milk, adipose tissue, and blood from Vietnamese living in sprayed and unsprayed areas were analyzed, some individually and some pooled, for dioxins and the closely related dibenzofurans.

Results: One hundred sixty dioxin analyses of tissue from 3243 persons were performed. Elevated 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) levels as high as 1832 ppt were found in milk lipid collected from southern Vietnam in 1970, and levels up to 103 ppt were found in adipose tissue in the 1980s. Pooled blood collected from southern Vietnam in 1991/92 also showed elevated TCDD up to 33 ppt, whereas tissue from northern Vietnam (where Agent Orange was not used) revealed TCDD levels at or below 2.9 ppt.

Conclusions: Although most Agent Orange studies have focused on American veterans, many Vietnamese had greater exposure. Because health consequences of dioxin contamination are more likely to be found in Vietnamese living in Vietnam than in any other populations, Vietnam provides a unique setting for dioxin studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic Acid / analysis*
  • 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic Acid / blood
  • 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid / analysis*
  • 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid / blood
  • Adipose Tissue / chemistry*
  • Agent Orange
  • Defoliants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Defoliants, Chemical / blood
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / analysis*
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / blood
  • United States
  • Vietnam
  • Warfare


  • Defoliants, Chemical
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid
  • Agent Orange
  • 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic Acid