Arthur Galston, Agent Orange Researcher, Is Dead at 88


By Jeremy Pearce

Arthur W. Galston, a Yale plant biologist who did early research that helped lead to the herbicide Agent Orange, then helped raise awareness of the military’s use of it in Vietnam in the 1960s and its devastating effects on river ecosystems, died on June 15 in Hamden, Conn. He was 88. The cause was congestive heart failure, his family said.

In letters, academic papers, broadcasts and seminars, Dr. Galston described the environmental damage wrought by Agent Orange and traveled to South Vietnam to monitor its impact. From 1962 to 1970, American troops released an estimated 20 million gallons of the chemical defoliant to destroy crops and expose Viet Cong positions and routes of movement.

Dr. Galston asserted that harm to trees and plant species could continue for an untold period, and perhaps for decades. He pointed out that spraying Agent Orange on riverbank mangroves in Vietnam was eliminating “one of the most important ecological niches for the completion of the life cycle of certain shellfish and migratory fish.”


Then, in 1970, with Matthew S. Meselson of Harvard and others, he made a case that Agent Orange presented a potential risk to humans. The scientists lobbied the Department of Defense to conduct toxicological studies, which found that compounds in Agent Orange could be linked to birth defects in laboratory rats. The revelation led President Richard M. Nixon to order an immediate halt of spraying.

In later years, Dr. Galston tied his activism to his own early research. In the 1940s, at the University of Illinois, he had experimented with a plant growth regulator, triiodobenzoic acid, and found that it could induce soybeans to flower and grow more rapidly. But if applied in excess, he noted, the compound would cause the plant to catastrophically shed its leaves.

A colleague, Ian Sussex, a senior research scientist at Yale, said others used Dr. Galston’s findings in the development of the more powerful defoliant, Agent Orange, named for the orange stripe painted around steel drums that contained it. The chemical, produced by Dow, Monsanto and other companies, is now known to have contained dioxins, long-lived compounds associated with cancers, birth defects and learning disabilities.

In the 1980s, Dr. Galston helped introduce popular courses in bioethics for undergraduates at Yale and in the 1990s was instrumental in founding the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at the university. He explored the risks and rewards of genetically modified plants and crops, pesticides, stem-cell research, cloning and other issues as co-editor of two textbooks, “New Dimensions in Bioethics” (2000) and “Expanding Horizons in Bioethics” (2005).

Top 5 Best Smartphones 2022

In other important work in plant physiology, Dr. Galston experimented with the nutrient riboflavin and its role in enabling plants to absorb blue light, making a connection that he advanced and published in 1950 in the journal Science. He also wrote a book, “The Life of the Green Plant” (1961).

Arthur William Galston was born in Brooklyn. He graduated from Cornell and earned his doctorate in botany from Illinois in 1943.

After teaching at the California Institute of Technology, he moved to Yale in 1955 as a professor of plant physiology. At Yale, he was chairman of the department of botany in the 1960s and chairman of the department of biology in the 1980s. Dr. Galston was also a former director of the division of biological sciences at Yale. He retired in 1990 as a professor of botany emeritus.

Dr. Galston is survived by his wife of 66 years, Dale. He is also survived by a son, William, of Bethesda, Md.; a daughter, Beth, of Carlisle, Mass.; and a grandson.

In 2003, Dr. Galston reconsidered the arc of his research.

“You know,” he said, “nothing that you do in science is guaranteed to result in benefits for mankind. Any discovery, I believe, is morally neutral and it can be turned either to constructive ends or destructive ends.”

He concluded: “That’s not the fault of science.”


Due to the nature of independent content, VT cannot guarantee content validity.
We ask you to Read Our Content Policy so a clear comprehension of VT's independent non-censored media is understood and given its proper place in the world of news, opinion and media.

All content is owned by author exclusively. Expressed opinions are NOT necessarily the views of VT, other authors, affiliates, advertisers, sponsors, partners or technicians. Some content may be satirical in nature. All images within are full responsibility of author and NOT VT.

About VT - Read Full Policy Notice - Comment Policy