Agent Orange might boost the risk of leukemia, UNC researcher says

CHAPEL HILL - A new study supports the possibility of an association between Agent Orange and development of a form of leukemia in Vietnam veterans' children but stops short of establishing a direct connection. Agent Orange was the infamous herbicide sprayed extensively in Vietnam to defoliate leafy jungles and eliminate hiding places for enemy troops. Estimates are that the spraying may have boosted the risk of the rare illness, which chiefly strikes in infancy or early childhood, by between 70 percent and 300 percent, researchers say.

Conducted by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill public health expert and a national committee of other experts, the study involved compiling and reviewing the best available research evidence of Agent Orange's effects. The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine convened the 2000 Committee to review the latest findings on the herbicide and asked Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health, to be chair.

"No firm evidence links exposure to the herbicides with most childhood cancers, but new research does suggest that some kind of connection exists between AML in children and their fathers' military service in Vietnam or Cambodia," Hertz-Piciotto said. "Additional research is needed to shed more light on the issue."

Congress's Agent Orange Act of 1991 mandated that a series of studies be conducted every two years for 10 years to evaluate the effects of herbicides that were used in Vietnam on Vietnam veterans' health, she said.

"Past work has identified associations with soft-tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and chloracne, a skin disease," the scientist said. "An interim committee on which I served also found limited suggestive evidence of a link between type II diabetes and herbicide use in Vietnam."

After reviewing hundreds of studies from the United States and abroad, Hertz-Picciotto and colleagues found no r

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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