Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers



New York Times
24 January 2003

Agent Orange And a Cancer Are Linked, a Study Shows

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 — Exposure to high levels of Agent Orange, the widely used defoliant in the Vietnam War, is associated with a slight increase in the incidence of a form of leukemia, researchers have determined.

A report from the Institute of Medicine has found that veterans exposed to Agent Orange three decades ago were at greater risk for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a fast-moving and deadly cancer. As a result of the study, the Veterans Affairs Department announced today that it would extend benefits to veterans with the disease.

"It's a terrible tragedy to contract this disease," Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi said. "We are taking steps to ensure that veterans are receiving the benefits they need."

The finding is the latest link between battlefield exposure to chemicals and clusters of disease among veterans. Agent Orange, which American forces sprayed from planes to clear Vietcong jungle havens in South Vietnam and parts of Cambodia, has been associated with other cancers, diabetes and birth defects. About 10,000 veterans receive disability benefits because of their exposure to dioxin in Agent Orange or similar chemicals.

In 2001, Mr. Principi extended benefits to veterans of the Persian Gulf war who suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, after studies found them to be nearly twice as likely to contract the disease as other troops.

"We have come to learn that environmental hazards of the battlefield can prove to be as disabling or deadly as the more traditional form of combat," he said in an interview.

Until now, the relationship between Agent Orange and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, has been murky. Although the disease is the most common form of leukemia, it is still considered rare. About 7,000 cases were diagnosed last year in the United States, presenting researchers with a small sample from which to draw conclusions.

The panel at the Institute of Medicine, which Congress finances as part of the National Academy of Sciences, took a different tack when researchers noted that lymphocytic leukemia, although classified as leukemia, shared many traits with Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, both of which had been linked to herbicide exposure.

"The similarities between CLL and lymphomas, which we have long known to be associated with exposure to the types of chemicals used in Agent Orange and other defoliants, began to raise questions about whether CLL should be considered separately from other forms of leukemia," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of epidemiology who was chairwoman of the panel. "The data are sufficient to support a link between herbicide exposure and this type of cancer."

Mr. Principi said the incidents of the cancer among veterans were relatively few, though he estimated that his department would hear from as many as 1,000 new patients a year. Because of the findings, veterans will not have to prove that their illnesses stemmed from Agent Orange exposure. Evidence of military service and a physician's diagnosis will be sufficient, the secretary said.

Depending on the severity of the disability, veterans will be entitled to up to $2,300 a month, officials said.





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