Image does not show chemicals being dispersed over the UK

23 June 2022
What was claimed

Images show aerosolized dispersal of chemicals taking place in Vietnam and the UK.

Our verdict

While one of the images does show chemicals being sprayed by the US military during the Vietnam War, the other shows contrails from a formation of US Air Force planes.

A Facebook post has shared side-by-side images taken of US planes in Vietnam during the war and modern planes flying over the UK, claiming both show “aerosolized dispersal” taking place.

While it is true that one of the images shows US Air Force (USAF) planes dispersing chemicals during the Vietnam War, the other image does not show a similar process, as the post suggests, but rather shows contrails caused by a formation of US military aircraft flying over the UK earlier this year.

The post is an example of the chemtrails theory, which falsely claims that white lines left behind by planes in the sky contain chemicals which are being used to either spread poison or control the weather.

We’ve written about this theory before, and as part of our work fact checking online misinformation we’ve noticed a recent increase in posts referring to chemtrails.

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US Air Force sprayed chemicals in Vietnam

The image on the left hand side of the post was taken during the Vietnam War. According to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, it shows four planes on a “defoliation spray run” on an unconfirmed date. 

Thousands of these sorties were flown by the USAF during the Vietnam War as part of Operation Ranch Hand, an operation which saw the US military drop chemical defoliants and herbicides over south Vietnam to reduce cover for the Viet Cong.

A number of different chemicals were used during this operation, which lasted for ten years between 1961 and 1971. As this photo is not dated it’s not possible to know exactly what the planes were spraying. 

The most commonly used chemical was a mixture of two herbicides called Agent Orange, which caused significant and lasting environmental damage, as well as major health problems for millions of people who were exposed to it, including Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian civilians and veterans.

Image shows contrails from US Air Force formation

The image on the right hand side of the photo shows what appears to be a number of planes flying over the UK. The post claims that the image also shows “aerosolized dispersal”.

Using a reverse image search, Full Fact was able to identify the image as a screenshot from a video, a version of which was shared on Twitter on 1 April 2022, which shows seven aircraft flying in formation over the UK.

As identified by a comment on the Facebook post, the screenshot and the video from which it was taken appears to be of a US military formation which was seen in skies over the UK earlier this year.

Various news reports and social media posts about the formation, which was spotted by residents in the north east of England and Scotland on 1 April, identified it as a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker air-to-air refueler travelling from RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk flanked by several fighter jets. 

The white vapour lines trailing behind the planes are not evidence of the “aerosolized dispersal” of chemicals as the post suggests, but are instead condensation trails, or contrails. These thin lines of cloud form when water vapour produced at high altitudes by aeroplane engines freezes as it is released into the cold air surrounding the plane.

Depending on the humidity of the air, the frozen vapour can either change from a solid to a gas and disappear quickly, or remain as water droplets or ice crystals, creating white lines in the sky which can remain visible for several hours.

Image courtesy of Bing Hui Yau

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