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Meselson Engaged to Study Defoliant Effect on Vietnam

By Mark W. Oberle

The country's largest scientific society has asked Matthew S. Meselson, professor of Biology, to plan a study of herbicide and defoliants in Vietnam.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science will contribute up to $50,000 to his work this year in outlining a laboratory and field "study of the effects of herbicides on plants, animals and human beings in Vietnam," Meselson said yesterday.

Several scientists have recently claimed that plant-killing chemicals cause birth defects, mental retardation, and cancer in mice and possibly humans.

After surveying the scientific literature on defoliants, Meselson said he would "produce several alternative plans with several price tags, and it will be up to the AAAS to decide which plan to use."


"We are open to suggestions from anybody who has any knowledge to contribute," he added.

By the time the field work begins a year from now, Meselson hopes the study "will attract participation by knowledgeable specialists in the several scientific fields involved, including scientists from Vietnam and other countries."

"However, this AAAS study will be made entirely independently of other organizations," he added.

U.S. herbicide and defoliant sprayings have covered "approximately 7,000 square miles, almost the same as the area of Massachusetts," Meselson said.

In response to evidence linking some herbicides to birth defects in rats and mice, the Federal government recently restrietel the use of "2,4,5-T" by Government agencies. Another chemical, "2,4-D," currently popular in military spraying programs, has also come under fire from scientists, but has not been similarly restricted.

U.S. spraying programs in Vietnam also use tacodylie acid, a drying agent that causes rice to wither and drop before harvest, picalinic acid, and possibly two soil sterilizes, Meselson said.

The AAAS has campaigned for a study of herbicide use in Vietnam for the last three years, according to the Association's magazine, Science, but the Defense Department has stalled on these requests until now.

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