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Agent Orange Residue on Post-Vietnam War Airplanes

Fairchild C-123K Provider, U.S. Air Force

Fairchild C-123K Provider
U.S. Air Force

Some Veterans who were crew members on C-123 Provider aircraft, formerly used to spray Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, have raised health concerns about exposure to residual amounts of herbicides on the plane surfaces.

Responding to these concerns, VA asked the Institute of Medicine to study possible health effects. Results are expected in late 2014.

If you have health concerns, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator.

Testing for Agent Orange residue on planes

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) collected and analyzed numerous samples from C-123 aircraft to test for Agent Orange. USAF's risk assessment report (April 27, 2012) (2.3 MB, PDF) found that potential exposures to Agent Orange in C-123 planes used after the Vietnam War were unlikely to have put aircrew or passengers at risk for future health problems. The report’s three conclusions:

  1. There was not enough information and data to conclude how much individual persons would have been exposed to Agent Orange.
  2. It is expected that exposure to Agent Orange in these aircraft after the Vietnam War was lower than exposure during the spraying missions in Vietnam.
  3. Potential Agent Orange exposures were unlikely to have exceeded standards set by regulators or to have put people at risk for future health problems.

How Veterans may have been exposed

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force used C-123 aircraft to spray Agent Orange to clear jungles that provided enemy cover in Vietnam. At the end of the spraying campaign in 1971, the remaining C-123 planes were reassigned to reserve units in the U.S. for routine cargo and medical evacuation missions spanning the next 10 years.

Crew members aboard one of these post-Vietnam C-123 planes reported smelling strong odors, which raised concerns about Agent Orange exposure – but Agent Orange is odorless. These odors may have come from various chemicals associated with aircraft.

Health effects of Agent Orange residue

The health effects of exposure to Agent Orange residue on airplanes differ from direct contact with liquid Agent Orange. In liquid or spray form, Agent Orange can enter the body through inhalation or ingestion (such as hand-to-mouth contact or getting into food). But in the dry form – for example, adhered to a surface – Agent Orange residue cannot be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and would be difficult to ingest.

The potential for health effects depends on the amount of Agent Orange present, as well as its ability to enter the body.

After reviewing available scientific reports in 2011 and 2012, VA concluded that the exposure potential in these planes was extremely low and therefore, the risk of long-term health effects is minimal. If crew exposure did occur, it is unlikely that sufficient amounts of dried Agent Orange residue could have entered the body to have caused harm.

We will continue to review new scientific information on this issue as it becomes available.

We’ve also asked the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, an independent non-governmental organization, to study possible health effects from Agent Orange in C-123 post-Vietnam crew members. Results are expected in late 2014.

Research studies on Agent Orange

Research on the health effects of Agent Orange has been extensive and it continues. Diverse populations have been studied, including herbicide sprayers and manufacturers, other Vietnam-era Veterans, and those exposed during industrial accidents. This information helps us to determine what potential health effects may be related to different levels of exposure.

Find out more about research on health effects of Agent Orange.

Health concerns?

If you have health concerns about Agent Orange, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator.

Not enrolled in the VA health care system? Find out if you qualify for VA health care.

Compensation benefits for health problems

The risk of long-term health problems from exposure to Agent Orange residue on post-Vietnam C-123 airplanes is minimal. Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to exposure to Agent Orange residue on post-Vietnam C-123 airplanes. Veterans must show on a factual basis that they were exposed in order to receive disability compensation for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure. VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis. File a claim online.

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