Estimation of Exposure to Agent Orange and Other Defoliants among American Troops in Vietnam: a Methodological Approach

Stellman, Steven D.; Stellman, Jeanne M.

Two pivotal problems in determining whether exposure to herbicides has caused disease in Vietnam veterans or their offspring are definition of which troops were exposed and extent of exposure. The DoD HERBS tape is the most complete publicly available record of herbicide spraying in Vietnam. It contains about 17,000 records consisting of coordinates of spray missions, dates, chemical agent, quantity and area sprayed, and mission purpose. We have developed a set of discrete and continuous indexes of probability of exposure to herbicides for individual veterans. These probability indexes are based on HERBS tape spray data and on locations and dates of service derived from a place-and-date matrix completed by the veteran. They can take into account a conservative estimate of environmental persistence of herbicide by using first-order exponential decay kinetics with an estimated half-life of dioxin. Mean values for the continuous exposure probability indexes were significantly greater among veterans judged to be exposed according to self-reported job titles and specific military experiences than among men judged unlikely to have been exposed. Probabilistic exposure indexes based on HERBS tape for classification of likely exposure to herbicides in South Vietnam during 1965-1971 appear to be well suited for comparative classification of veterans and hence for use in epidemiologic studies.


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Also Published In

American Journal of Industrial Medicine

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Academic Units
Health Policy and Management
Published Here
October 6, 2014


This is one of two studies of mortality among men who were employed in woodworking industries in the U.S. and who were enrolled in CPS-2, the ACS study of 1.2 million men and women. The companion paper is Demers PA, Stellman SD, Colin D, Boffetta P. Nonmalignant respiratory disease mortality among woodworkers participating in the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study-II (CPS-II). Am J Ind Med 1998;34(3):238-43. The story of how this project originated with discovery of a box of punch cards at the American Cancer Society in New York is given in the NOTES section for that paper in Columbia Academic Commons.