#184 – Agent Orange

The tactical herbicide Agent Orange, which was used in South-east Asia by the United States Department of Defence during the Vietnam War, was made from equal parts of the n–butyl esters of 2,4,5-T and 2,4,-D. For almost half a century, controversy has surrounded its use, mainly because it contained a highly toxic dioxin impurity (TCDD). Despite this impurity being thoroughly investigated, there is still a lot of confusion by the public regarding how it was formed and why it took so long to be detected. To answer these questions, you have to have a basic understanding of the synthesis of one of the herbicides precursors – once you have that, you soon begin to realise that what you thought you knew about Agent Orange may be wrong.

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