Children of Veterans Are the the Innocent Victims of Agent Orange

Ed Mattson, Military Affairs Examiner - November 11, 2011

The debate goes on and probably will until the end of time as to the effects of DIOXIN on dozens of health related issues. The Veteran on this Veteran’s Day does not have to be reminded of the long battle with the Veteran's Administration, the Department of Defense, and 13 chemical manufacturing companies on the massive exposure to dioxin from the use of Agent Orange and other defoliants during the Vietnam War.

The same hold true for the public population , both in the United States and many other countries, where dioxin laced products were used in a effort to "improve our lives," by limiting growth of weeds, vegetation, and disease carrying insects, only to learn that increase health issues would become a nightmare for many of those exposed. We now understand that we cannot rewind the clock and easily solve the problems caused by dioxin, but must learn how to deal with it in a fair and equitable manner to all who have health related issues, and find ways to prevent further exposure.

As I have written, the effects of dioxin should not have been a surprise to anyone with an ounce of sense. As early-on as 1945, when scientist first began experimenting with defoliants for clearing vegetation which provided concealment to enemy forces in jungle warfare, dioxin was described as one of the deadliest compounds to human life as could ever be imagined. Yet dioxin is found in nature and created by volcanic eruptions, and wild fires which have occurred since the beginning of time. The problem does not reside in the backyard of dioxin alone, and while it is far more toxic than many other compounds, it is just one of many chemicals that that the public can be exposed to, which have an accumulative effect leading to adverse health conditions, can lead to an early death, and wreck havoc on the off-spring of those who have been exposed.

There are several observations that must be learned when we take on the issue of dioxin and other toxic chemicals, particularly those that can and do occur naturally. The first is that we must do everything in our power to limit our exposure and find ways to minimize the combined effects of a whole litany of compounds that can further exacerbate the problems, without everyone having to wear hazmat protective gear, completely shutting down industry, shutting off all commerce, and going back to the Stone Age.

To the Veteran Dioxin leads the list of environmental-unfriendly chemicals which are extensively used in industry and commerce, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and bisphenol A (BPA), and build-up in the human body, from the agricultural products we consume, and the meat, fish, and foul we eat during our life time. If you add purposely-driven exposure to products like Agent Orange to the mix it is like suicide. This is not just in the victim, but in the offspring for decades down the road from the genetic damage done to the one originally exposed.

The concept of genetically traced abnormalities is not new science here either. We have been teaching "evolution" for years (with most emphasis placed on naturally-occurring genetic changes) as species adapt to their environment, but now we see there can be man-made changes through pollutants as well.

What made me want to look into this phenomenon was being asked by the daughter of a retired Vietnam Veteran about her ADHA, and the autism affecting many of her special education students. I told her I had been writing articles regarding the Veteran and civilian exposure to Agent Orange, and how genetic damage could be the root cause, and nobody out here in the real world looking to "pin the tail on the donkey," so to speak.

The more one looks, the more frightening the realization is that we as a nation just can't seem to man-up holding those who have manufactured many of these products accountable. Whether it is Dow, Monsanto, or any of the other dozen or so companies which raced to fill the lucrative government contracts for defoliants during the Vietnam War, their compensatory efforts have been miniscule compared to that of the taxpayer. Billions in profit continue to flow into the coffers of Big Chemical, while the taxpayer bares the reoccurring cost of dealing with the problem…and what a problem it has become.

While the Veteran has had to deal with the "first-generation" of illnesses that have been caused by their exposure to Agent Orange, and compounded by continual environment exposure once the war was terminated, it’s the future generations of those Veteran's where the concern now lies.

Think about this…150,000 children were described as having symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 1970. Today we find the number has risen drastically (over 4.5 million by 2003). I strongly disagree with Dr. Sanford Newmark, a noted researcher, in his conclusion that, "genetic changes would not account for this increase, so it may be that environmental changes are significantly decreasing our children's ability to concentrate and regulate their own behavior."

An additional cud to chew-on is this statistic… From Dr. Darold Treffert, "When I did my epidemiology study of infantile autism in 1970, I found the prevalence of autism (at that time called Childhood Schizophrenia) to be 3.1 cases per 10,000 children in Wisconsin age 12 and under. Others had reported a prevalence of autism to be in the range of 4.5/10,000 (about 1 per 2222 children). The most frequently quoted prevalence figure now is the 2007 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figure of 1 out of 150 children."

Now, my area of study was oncology not psychiatry, but it looks as if even science can't come to the realization that the date range in the above examples regarding the onslaught of childhood mental health issues directly parallels the extensive use of Agent Orange and the ending of the Vietnam War. No one will ever convince me that this is just eerie circumstance.

If you want to research my previous articles on Agent Orange, you’ll read that dioxin can cause severe genetic damage to someone who is exposed. The normal immune system, with its system of "checks and balance," and includes tumor suppressor and DNA repair genes, is simply overwhelmed by dioxin exposure, and once these protective genes are destroyed, the human body may never be able to recover. Dioxin, once it enters the body, is stored in body fat and it may be decades before it is dissipated (though in many instances, it may never totally leave the body).

Certainly not all autism and ADHD can be laid at the doorstep of Agent Orange, but surely it has to be a contributing cause for the body’s inability to defend itself from environmental exposure leading to autism and ADHA. The perinatal period in a developing child has been suggested to be a possible causal factor for abnormal development, especially during the brain growth spurt, which begins during the third trimester of pregnancy and continues throughout the first two years of life. The neuro-toxic properties of environmental toxins , including dioxin, would have an adverse effect if the genetic hand-off from the one exposed to Agent Orange to the offspring has been altered. I believe this warrants much further study.

Some studies have noted that acute or repeated perinatal exposure to Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), Dioxin (PCDD) and other chemicals and important proteins such as BDNF, CaMKII and GAP-43 may alter motor and cognitive function in newborn animals. It stands to reason that this could lead to autism and ADHD because parents can only pass-on genetic material from their DNA that they possess. If their genetic structure has been altered by Agent Orange exposure, they could be passing on an altered genetic make-up. It appears we are entering even rougher waters as the rates of ADHD and autism occurrence is growing at a rate of 10-17% each year.

OK, maybe I can sell the readers of this article that Agent Orange and its chief ingredient, dioxin, has given us a real challenge, but how can we go about encouraging further studies as to the long-term consequences to our families, and how do we go about rectifying the situation? As Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor at Harvard School of Public Health and the lead author of the a recent study published in The Lancet stated, “We must make protection of the young brain a paramount goal of public health protection. You have only one chance to develop a brain."

My suggestion is that the solution will be found through targeted gene therapy, or perhaps in the area of umbilical cord blood stem cell transplantation, but they are finally getting the train on the right track.

Great strides have been made in looking for solutions to most diseases in this exciting field of study. Perhaps I wasn’t the dullest light bulb in the lamp when I first began preaching that research was spending too much time on medicine and not enough time and money on solving the cause of disease. Fifteen years ago I was a square peg in a round hole, but today, it looks as if such theories are really coming on strong:

The prevalence of Alezheimer's and Parkinson's are increasing but the efficacy of treatment is still very limited due to various factors including the blood brain barrier (BBB). Drug delivery to the brain remains the major challenge for the treatment of all neurodegenerative diseases because of the numerous protective barriers surrounding the central nervous system. Studies have shown that cationic liposomes can facilitate the transfer of DNA material (i.e. genes) across the blood brain barrier. This could be the prelude for targeting the genes that cause autism and ADHA.

According to Science Daily (Aug. 10, 2011) —The Hospital for Sick Children-University of Toronto has identified more genes in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and shows that there is an overlap between some of these genes and those found in other neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Many of these identified genes were from affected parents. By identifying such targets, science could begin finding ways to provide gene transfers to solve the problem.