Malathion is the name of an organophosphate insecticide used in Vietnam to combat mosquitoes. Organophosphates were first developed in the late 1930s by Nazi Germany as chemical warfare agents (nerve gas). VX nerve gas and Sarin gas are well-known examples. Organophosphates operate on humans and insects in a similar fashion by attacking the nervous systems.
During the Vietnam War, large numbers of troops came down with malaria. To kill the mosquitoes that carried the disease, the Department of Defense converted aircraft that were spraying Agent Orange to the spraying of Malathion. This was the start of Operation Flyswatter.
Many Vietnam veterans recall the non-camouflaged aircraft flying over their positions—shortly after dawn or just before dusk—covering them with a mist. Three silver “Bug Birds” were used in Operation Flyswatter. Many connected those flights with the spraying of Agent Orange. We now know that, in those cases, we were subjected to Malathion and its more potent form, Malaoxon.
These were not just one-time missions. Every nine to eleven days, weather permitting, the planes re-sprayed the areas. The spray operation created recurring chemical exposures for Vietnam veterans. You can read the full report on this operation at www.scientificjournals.com/sj/espr/Pdf/aId/10482
What are the health risks of these spray operations? What are the combined and synergic effects of Malathion with other exposures such as Agent Orange? These questions have not been addressed. We know that a March 2008 study shows that organophosphates including Malathion significantly increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Knowing that organophosphates work on the nervous systems, the diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system become prime areas of concern. This is a fresh chemical exposure area for Vietnam veterans to explore as they seek answers to their many health issues. The VVA Agent Orange/Dioxin and Other Toxic Substances Committee also will be researching this area.