The People vs. Agent Orange (& OSU Forestry Connections)

(this email update was sent to Friends supporters on October 6th, 2020)

Aerial spraying of herbicides drenched vast stretches of Western Oregon with carcinogenic chemicals for decades – the same chemicals our government used to destroy millions of acres of forest and crops in Vietnam (from The People vs. Agent Orange)  This practice continues on our private forest lands to this day.

Dear Friends of OSU Old Growth,

During last summer’s controversy over OSU’s cutting of old growth, I was contacted by documentary filmmaker, Alan Adelson.  After a decade of work, he was finishing the final editing of his movie, The People vs. Agent Orange – an exposé of the ongoing human impact of our country’s largest chemical warfare campaign – and the herbicides that followed.

Mr. Adelson was intrigued by the story of how OSU’s Research Forest staff had cut the ancient forest. His investigative work showed how the chemicals used in Agent Orange (2,4-D and 2,4,5-T) had been promoted for aerial spraying of our forests after the end of the Vietnam war.  I was surprised to learn that some prominent OSU professors had played a pivotal role in creating this new market for these poisonous chemicals – and advocated on behalf of their manufacturer (Dow Chemical) in a fight against the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to ban the chemicals. 

OSU Professor Emeritus Michael Newton has been an ardent defender of herbicides for roughly half a century (from The People Vs. Agent Orange)

I shared how one of these professors was, coincidentally, a key figure on the committee that develped OSU’s 2005 Research Forest Plan.  College insiders had told me how he had angrily chastised committee members, warning, “You’re going to turn this forest into a spotted owl reserve!“.  The owls must have been listening, as they showed up in the OSU Forests the very next year.  Insiders had also told me how this same professor had fought for decades against protection of the old growth that was cut last year.  With this background, it wasn’t a huge surprise to learn of his involvement in the use of Agent Orange chemicals in forestry. 

This Dow chemist claimed 2,4,5-T, “Is about as safe as aspirin, really…” (from The People Vs. Agent Orange).  The EPA disagreed and banned 2,4,5-T in 1979.
Just a few of the millions of people impacted by our spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam.  Birth defects continue to impact four generations of people, including US veterans and their offspring. (from The People Vs. Agent Orange)

Over the course of the past year, I’ve been doing my investigation into the “OSU – Agent Orange connection”.  It is a long, twisted tale involving suppression of research by the EPA, collusion of OSU professors with a chemical manufacturer, a devastating cost to human lives and the environment, and some truly heroic people.  A very dark chapter indeed for a public institution that claims to exhibit, “leadership in forestry education”.  I plan to share what I’ve learned in a series of upcoming blog pieces on our website.  Stay tuned…

In the meantime I highly recommend watching The People Vs. Agent Orange – which is available for free on-line viewing until October 11thcourtesy of the Eugene Environmental Film Festival*.  You can find the trailer and the link to this extraordinarily compelling film here:   Look for the link at the bottom of the film festival webpage.

[*Note: the film is currently only available for viewing in Oregon, but will be officially released on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations in the spring.  There are 67 other films you can watch on the Eugene Environmental Film Festival website (  Please consider making a donation to support their work!]

Debra Fant and Carol Van Strum have fought aerial spraying of herbicides in Oregon for several decades – they are two of the most heroic people you will ever meet!  (photo by Doug Pollock)

Thanks for your continued support!

Doug & Friends of OSU Old Growth (