Study finds possible link between Agent Orange, leukemia

Friday, April 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The dangerous aftereffects of the chemical Agent Orange used in Vietnam may have extended to the children of veterans of that war.

The Institute of Medicine reported Thursday that the children of veterans exposed to herbicides such as Agent Orange seem to have a greater chance of being afflicted with a certain type of leukemia called acute myelogenous leukemia.

The new analysis makes the first connection between the childhood disease and the pesticide, although it stops short of saying the link is conclusive.

``I'm deeply concerned about the implications for the children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange,'' Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi said in a telephone interview. He called the report ``very serious.''

Principi said President Bush has directed him to prepare legislation to assist children with the disease. Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., said he will introduce a bill to provide compensation and medical care for these children.

Acute myelogenous leukemia is a fast-spreading form of leukemia that originates in bone-marrow cells. It accounts for about 8 percent of all childhood cancers, the report said. It is also known as acute myloid leukemia and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.

Rick Weidman, vice president of Vietnam Veterans of America, said his group is ``pleased that they recognized one additional birth defect in children born to Vietnam veterans.'' But, he added, it is also very sad news because most of these children have already died. The median life expectancy for children diagnosed with this type of leukemia is two years, he noted.

Dr. Linda Schwartz, head of the association's health care task force, said that last year Congress approved a broad program to assist female Vietnam veteran's children with birth defects. She called for a similar program for the children of male vets.

``No firm evidence links exposure to the herbicides with most childhood cancers, but new research does suggest that some kind of connection exists between (acute myelogenous leukemia) in children and their fathers' military service in Vietnam or Cambodia,'' said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina.

Hertz-Picciotto was chair of the institute committee that prepared the new report: ``Veterans and Agent Orange, Update 2000.''

The report is the most recent in a series by the institute, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, looking at the effects of the herbicides used in Vietnam.

During Vietnam, thousands of veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, a defoliant used to clear areas of jungle so the Viet Cong could be seen and attacked from the air.

The new study also reaffirms earlier findings linking herbicide exposure with the development of soft tissue cancer, Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and chloracne in veterans.

The committee said it based its new finding on two studies published last year.

While the studies lacked a direct measure of exposure to the herbicides, both were conducted with Vietnam veterans and an association was indicated with childhood AML, though not other forms of childhood leukemia.

One study, for example, looked at 50,000 Australian veterans of the Vietnam War. It found 13 cases of AML in their children, while in a normal population that size the number of cases expected would be between zero and six.

The strongest link was seen in children who developed the disease at the youngest ages, which suggests that the cause may stem from a parent, the report added.

In addition, a third study found that childhood development of AML was more likely in the offspring of men who use pesticides or herbicides in their work.

The committee listed the connection as suggestive rather than conclusive, saying that the evidence wasn't strong enough to be sure that chance or other factors didn't influence the results.

Previous studies evaluated by the institute have found suggestive but not conclusive evidence of a link between herbicide exposure and respiratory cancers, prostate cancer, type two diabetes, spina bifida in children and other conditions.