DIABETES: Air Force Links Disease to Agent Orange
The U.S. Air Force has found a possible link between diabetes and exposure to Agent Orange, the defoliant used during the Vietnam War, the Washington Post reports. According to an Air Force report submitted to Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), chair of the House Committee on Government Reform subcommittee on national security, veterans affairs and international relations, Vietnam veterans with "high dioxin levels were more likely to develop diabetes than were those with low levels." Dioxin is a chemical found in Agent Orange. Since 1982, the study followed about 1,000 former servicemen who serviced or flew aircraft carrying Agent Orange, and compared their health to a similar number of servicemen who served in the war, but were not exposed to the defoliant.
Questions of Correlation
The new data, however, does not prove dioxin causes diabetes, but rather that there "appears to be a correlation between its level in the blood and the disease." Other factors, such as obesity, also may contribute to the link. Research shows that dioxin is stored in fat tissue, therefore it is possible that people with diabetes are "more likely to have higher levels of dioxin in their blood simply because their bodies get rid of the chemical more slowly." But Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) argued yesterday that the evidence is strong enough to conclude that dioxin is one of the causes of developing diabetes. Sanders said, "What we should appreciate is that this is not some abstract academic exercise." He added, "This is real life, where people who put their lives on the line to defend this country are suffering and dying" (Brown, 3/29).