WASHINGTON -- 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.
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