Agent Orange may affect children of Vietnam veterans
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (April 20, 2001 8:43 a.m. EDT) - Vietnam veterans may have passed
down the dangerous aftereffects of the chemical Agent Orange to their
children, according to a study released Thursday.
The Institute of Medicine reported that the children of veterans exposed to
herbicides such as Agent Orange seem to have a greater chance of being
afflicted with a certain type of leukemia called acute myelogenous leukemia.
The new analysis makes the first connection between the childhood disease
and the pesticide, although it stops short of saying the link is conclusive.
"I'm deeply concerned about the implications for the children of veterans
exposed to Agent Orange," Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi
said in a telephone interview. He called the report "very serious."
Principi said President Bush has directed him to prepare legislation to
assist children with the disease. Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., said he will
introduce a bill to provide compensation and medical care for these
Acute myelogenous leukemia is a fast-spreading form of leukemia that
originates in bone-marrow cells. It accounts for about 8 percent of all
childhood cancers, the report said. It is also known as acute myloid
leukemia and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.
Rick Weidman, vice president of Vietnam Veterans of America, said his group
is "pleased that they recognized one additional birth defect in children
born to Vietnam veterans." But, he added, it is also very sad news because
most of these children have already died. The median life expectancy for
children diagnosed with this type of leukemia is two years, he noted.
Dr. Linda Schwartz, head of the association's health care task force, said
that last year Congress approved a broad program to assist female Vietnam
veteran's children with birth defects. She called for a similar program for
the children of male vets.
"No firm evidence links exposure to the herbicides with most childhood
cancers, but new research does suggest that some kind of connection exists
between (acute myelogenous leukemia) in children and their fathers' military
service in Vietnam or Cambodia," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of
epidemiology at the University of North Carolina.
Hertz-Picciotto was chair of the institute committee that prepared the new
report: "Veterans and Agent Orange, Update 2000."
The report is the most recent in a series by the institute, a division of
the National Academy of Sciences, looking at the effects of the herbicides
used in Vietnam.
During Vietnam, thousands of veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, a
defoliant used to clear areas of jungle so the Viet Cong could be seen and
attacked from the air.
The new study also reaffirms earlier findings linking herbicide exposure
with the development of soft tissue cancer, Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma and chloracne in veterans.
The committee said it based its new finding on two studies published last
While the studies lacked a direct measure of exposure to the herbicides,
both were conducted with Vietnam veterans and an association was indicated
with childhood AML, though not other forms of childhood leukemia.
One study, for example, looked at 50,000 Australian veterans of the Vietnam
War. It found 13 cases of AML in their children, while in a normal
population that size the number of cases expected would be between zero and
The strongest link was seen in children who developed the disease at the
youngest ages, which suggests that the cause may stem from a parent, the
In addition, a third study found that childhood development of AML was more
likely in the offspring of men who use pesticides or herbicides in their
The committee listed the connection as suggestive rather than conclusive,
saying that the evidence wasn't strong enough to be sure that chance or
other factors didn't influence the results.
Previous studies evaluated by the institute have found suggestive but not
conclusive evidence of a link between herbicide exposure and respiratory
cancers, prostate cancer, type two diabetes, spina bifida in children and
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