by Amy Marie Hay
foreword by Mark D. Hersey
University of Alabama Press, 2022
eISBN: 978-0-8173-9379-3 | Cloth: 978-0-8173-2108-6
Library of Congress Classification SB951.4.H39 2022
Dewey Decimal Classification 632.954

Examines the domestic and international use of phenoxy herbicides by the United States in the mid-twentieth century
In The Defoliation of America: Agent Orange Chemicals, Citizens, and Protests, Amy M. Hay profiles the attitudes, understandings, and motivations of grassroots activists who rose to fight the use of phenoxy herbicides, or Agent Orange chemicals as they are commonly known, in various aspects of American life during the post-WWII era. Hay focuses her analysis on citizen responses to illuminate how regulatory policies were understood, challenged, and negotiated, contributing to a growing body of research on chemical regulatory policies, risk society, and hazardous chemicals. This volume uncovers new understandings about the authority of the state and its obligation to society, the role of scientific authority and expertise, and the protests made by various groups of citizens.
First introduced in 1946, phenoxy herbicides mimic hormones in broadleaf plants, causing them to “grow to death” while grass, grains, and other monocots remain unaffected. By the 1950s, millions of pounds of these chemicals were produced annually for use in brush control, weed eradication, forest management, and other agricultural applications. Pockets of skepticism and resistance began to appear by the late 1950s, and the trend intensified after 1962 when Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring directed mainstream attention to the harm modern chemicals were causing in the natural world. It wasn’t until the Vietnam War, however, when nearly 19 million gallons of Agent Orange and related herbicides were sprayed to clear the canopy and destroy crops in Southeast Asia, that the long-term damage associated with this group of chemicals began to attract widespread attention and alarm.
Using a wide array of sources and an interdisciplinary approach, Hay contributes to the robust fields of chemical toxicity, regulation, environmental management, and public health. This study of the scientists, health and environmental activists, and veterans who fought US chemical regulatory policies and practices reveals the mechanisms, obligations, and constraints of state and scientific authority in mid-twentieth-century America. Hay also shows how these disparate and mostly forgotten citizen groups challenged the political consensus and contested government and industry narratives of chemical safety.

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