Is Agent Orange biodegradable? (7 health implications of Agent Orange) 

This article will explain the biodegradability status of Agent Orange. Other covered aspects will include:

  • Can Agent Orange biodegrade?
  • What are the environmental impacts of Agent Orange?
  • Why was Agent Orange discontinued?
  • Is Agent Orange recyclable?
  • How can herbicides be disposed of?
  • FAQs

Is Agent Orange biodegradable?

Agent Orange is regarded as a non-biodegradable herbicide. Agent Orange is a herbicide that is not used these days. It was used in the Vietnam war by the US military as a tactical agent. That is why it is called Agent Orange. 

Agent Orange, fundamentally, was a herbicide that was made from a contaminant called dioxin. Dioxin is an extremely toxic chemical compound that is known to cause a number of health implications. 

Agent Orange is hazardous to both the environment and human health. The negative impacts of Agent Orange can be explained through two frames that include Agent Orange as a herbicide and Agent Orange as a non-biodegradable material. 

The health implications of Agent Orange include disabilities, cancer, and developmental issues. These impacts are still seen today. 

Is Agent Orange biodegradable?

In order to probe into the answer to the biodegradability of Agent Orange, it is important to know what Agent Orange is made of. 

Agent Orange is a herbicide that is not used these days. It was used in the Vietnam war by the US military as a tactical agent. That is why it is called Agent Orange. 

Agent Orange, fundamentally, was a herbicide that was made from a contaminant called dioxin. Dioxin is an extremely toxic chemical compound that is known to cause a number of health implications. 

Dioxin is mostly produced as a by-product of herbicide manufacturing or paper bleaching. As per the historical perspective, dioxin was mostly released from commercial and medical waste. 

Dioxin is highly non-biodegradable because of its synthetic nature. Therefore, Agent Orange is also regarded as non-biodegradable. 

However, the problem is not just about biodegradability, the problem is also about the health and environmental risks and damages that were caused by Agent Orange. The article will explain these aspects as well after covering a bit about what biodegradability is. 

Biodegradation or biodegradability is the breakdown of waste by the action of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, decomposers, algae, and even fungi.

Have you ever seen a rotten apple? If yes, then you have seen biodegradation in action. You may think that degradation happens by itself. However, as Rumi said, “Everything you see has roots in the invisible world.” The same is the case for biodegradation. 

In the case of biodegradation too, there are many factors and hidden facilitators of biodegradation too. These include:

  • Presence or absence of oxygen
  • Aeration
  • Temperature 
  • Pressure
  • Types of microbes 

In the case of biodegradability, there are two types of waste that are there. One is biodegradable waste and the other is a non-biodegradable waste. 

Biodegradable waste is made from natural materials such as plant waste, animal waste, manure, sewage et cetera.

As regards the examples of non-biodegradable waste, we have already discussed that Agent Orange is an example of non-biodegradable waste.

What are the environmental impacts of Agent Orange?

This section will cover the environmental impacts of Agent Orange. This can be explained through two frames. These are: 

  • Agent Orange as a herbicide
  • Agent Orange is a non-biodegradable substance

Agent Orange as a non-biodegradable material

Let us first take up the role of Agent Orange as a non-biodegradable material. There are a plethora of effects that could be rendered by Agent Orange by being non-biodegradable. 

An average person is responsible for the generation of more than 3-5 kgs of waste per day. This creates a lot of pressure on the waste management systems. 

If the waste products are not checked, then it can choke the whole of the planet. For example, consider that you are not able to dispose of waste from your house for a year. Do you think you can live in the same house?

The same is the case for biodegradability and our planet. If there is no biodegradability, the whole planet will become unlivable. It is the process of biodegradability that reduces the heaps of waste and this facilitates the waste management endeavours greatly. 

Also, biodegradability ensures that waste does not cause environmental problems. The importance of this act can be seen in the negative effects of non-biodegradable waste. These include:

  • Global warming
  • Greenhouse effect
  • Melting of glaciers
  • Rising sea levels
  • Unprecedented weather patterns
  • Floods
  • Droughts
  • Soil erosion
  • Deforestation
  • Acid rain
  • Pollution
  • Disruption of ecosystem
  • Destruction of habitats
  • Effects of food chains 
  • Behavioural issues
  • Water shortage 
  • Resource depletion 

Agent Orange, being non-biodegradable, have a role in the promotion and expansion of these negative effects on the environment. 

Agent Orange as a herbicide

Agent Orange is a herbicide made from a contaminated source called dioxin. Therefore, there are a number of environmental impacts of Agent Orange as a herbicide. 

One important aspect is that Agent Orange is a harmful herbicide. This means that it has the capacity to target and affect non-target plants as well. 

This may lead to decreased growth of plants and increased mortality rates in plants. When this happens, there are repercussions for sure. 

For example, when plant growth is decreased, there will be an impact on the economy as well as the substantiality. The country will not be able to produce the required crop and would need to import materials from other countries. 

This will not only create economic disturbances but will also create a sense of unequal production of crops that may last for many years. 

Further, the case of Agent Orange is significantly exacerbated than any common herbicide. This is because Agent Orange was used as a tactical herbicide against the enemy in the Vietnam war. 

It is claimed that Agent Orange was sprayed in 20 times more concentration than was recommended. This led to complete destruction and devastation of fields. The results are persistent to this day. 

Since Agent Orange is a persistent pollutant, the effects of dioxin in soil samples are recorded to be in unhealthy concentration that is bad for the people and bad for the planet. 

Why was Agent Orange discontinued? (7 health implications) 

A case already has been built on the negative effects of Agent Orange as a herbicide and non-biodegradable pollutant. 

It was discussed that Agent Orange was used for a limited time period. It was exceptionally used during the Vietnam war. Its use was discontinued in the 1970s. 

It must be mentioned here that it was the same time period when harmful effects of DDT were studied and hence DDT was also discontinued in the 1970s. 

In this section, we shall cover some of the health impacts caused by Agent Orange. Agent Orange was made from dioxin. Dioxin was regarded as an extremely harmful pollutant that damages people and the planet. 

Agent Orange is linked with a number of medical complications such as: 

  • Mutations
  • Cancer
  • Birth defects
  • Neurodevelopmental issues
  • Neurological complications 
  • Diabetes 
  • Disabilities 

It is claimed that as many as three million people have been affected by the exacerbated side effects of Agent Orange. Since it is a persistent organic pollutant, the results and impacts are still seen to this date. Even today, more than 1.5 lac are born with implications that are mentioned just above. 

Is Agent Orange recyclable?

Agent Orange can not be recycled. This is because there is a chance that Agent Orange may be badly contaminated. This can put the recycling systems under threat and may also contaminate the other recycled materials. 

Recycling is explained as the process of reusing already used materials by modifying and making certain changes to them. 

This has a number of applications and advantages to the environment and also the people. The advantages that are rendered by recycling may include better waste management, better resource management, and increased employment opportunities. 

More than that, recycling is also considered to be one of the best solutions to deal with non-biodegradable waste. However, unfortunately, this is not the case with Agent Orange. 

How can herbicides be disposed of?

One very important and related question is what are safe disposal practices for herbicides. Although Agent Orange was discontinued in the 1970s, there are still many herbicides used to date. 

These herbicides may cause serious health and environmental related complications if not disposed of properly. 

As per the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), herbicides are hazardous waste and must be disposed of in that manner. 

This is mainly because herbicides may contain harmful pollutants such as dioxin that can raise developmental issues in humans and even cancer. 

Other examples of hazardous waste include waste from research labs and waste from hospitals. However, the bottles in which herbicides are kept can be given to recycling centres provided that it is not heavily contaminated as such. This can be known by knowing how hazardous herbicide is. 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that Agent Orange is regarded as non-biodegradable. Agent Orange is a herbicide that is not used these days. It was used in the Vietnam war by the US military as a tactical agent. That is why it is called Agent Orange. 

Agent Orange, fundamentally, was a herbicide that is made from a contaminant called dioxin. Dioxin is an extremely toxic chemical compound that is known to cause a number of health implications. 

Agent Orange is hazardous to both the environment and human health. The negative impacts of Agent Orange can be explained through two frames that include Agent Orange as a herbicide and Agent Orange as a non-biodegradable material. 

The health implications of Agent Orange include disabilities, cancer, and developmental issues. These impacts are still seen today. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is Agent Orange biodegradable?

Why was Agent Orange discontinued?

Agent Orange was discontinued owing to the negative effects of Agent Orange on the environment, crops and health. These effects remained persistent since Agent Orange is made from a persistent organic pollutant. 

What is Agent Orange made of?

Agent Orange, fundamentally, was a herbicide that is made from a contaminant called dioxin. Dioxin is an extremely toxic chemical compound that is known to cause a number of health implications. 

References

  • Rüegg, W. T., Quadranti, M., & Zoschke, A. (2007). Herbicide research and development: challenges and opportunities. Weed Research, 47(4), 271-275.
  • Frumkin, H. (2003). Agent Orange and cancer: an overview for clinicians. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians, 53(4), 245-255.
  • Martini, E. A. (2012). Agent Orange: history, science, and the politics of uncertainty. University of Massachusetts Press.
  • Ngo, A. D., Taylor, R., Roberts, C. L., & Nguyen, T. V. (2006). Association between Agent Orange and birth defects: systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Epidemiology, 35(5), 1220-1230.

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