Vietnam: Agent Orange Still Killing After Three Decades

Publisher Name: 
IPS News

WASHINGTON - More than 30 years after the spraying
of Agent Orange in Vietnam by U.S. troops during the war, the
health effects on U.S. veterans and their families as well as
affected Vietnamese remain devastating, experts say.

Birth defects resulting from contamination with the chemical
herbicide persist in today's third generation of grandchildren
of the war and its victims -- with no end in sight. An estimated
650,000 victims are suffering from chronic illnesses in Vietnam
alone, and another 500,000 have already died, researchers say.

This is not a historical problem, but one with long-term
consequences that have to be addressed, said Dr. Wayne
Dwernychuk, senior vice president of the Vancouver-based Hatfield
Associates, an environmental impact consulting agency.

Dwernychuk spoke at a press briefing Tuesday coordinated by the
Fund for Reconciliation and Development, Oxfam America and the
American Friends Service Committee.

Agent Orange victims and their families have been fighting for
compensation since the 1970s. The most common result has been
out of court settlements after court proceedings and negotiations
that dragged on for years.

Next week, Rep. Lane Evans, an Illinois Democrat, plans to
introduce a new bill in the Congressional committee on veterans
affairs that will focus on aiding the children of Vietnam
veterans. A broader bill is supposed to follow next year.

While the U.S. government has only reluctantly taken
responsibility for its own soldiers, it has shown even less
interest in the affected Vietnamese population.

A conference at Yale University last April concluded that in
Vietnam, the U.S. had conducted the largest chemical warfare
campaign in history. No compensation for civilian Vietnamese
victims has ever been offered.

It does not stretch current preoccupations to see Agent
Orange/dioxin as a kind of weapon of mass destruction, finding
its victims both among combatants and innocent civilians. The
intended prey may have been forests and food supplies, but the
ultimate price was and is paid by human beings, said John
McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and
Development, in a statement on Tuesday.

So far, the U.S. government has given no indication that it
will aid Vietnamese victims and their families, who have been
exposed to dioxin residues for the last 30 years.

It's very late to do anything, said Madame Nguyen Thi Binh,
who until last year was the well-known vice president of
Vietnam. We put this issue directly on the table with the U.S.
So far they have not dealt with the problem. If our relationship
is ever to be normal, the U.S. has to accept responsibility.

U.S. action is needed to address humanitarian needs in
Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam as a result of Agent Orange and
related war legacies, she said, adding: Go and see the situation
for yourself.

In general, Americans find the case for responsibility for
consequences to fall more clearly upon other countries than upon
ourselves. This may be another example of American
exceptionalism, linked psychologically and politically to
rejection of the International Criminal Court, said McAuliff.

Dwernychuk and a group of other environmental scientists
recently conducted research on dioxin levels from wartime
herbicides. The study found that rather than naturally
dispersing, Agent Orange has remained in the ground in
concentrations more than 100 times the safe levels for farmland
in Canada.

Studies can be proposed until hell freezes over, said
Dwernychuk, but they are not going to assist the Vietnamese in
a humanitarian sense one iota. We state emphatically that no
additional research on human health is required to facilitate
intervention or to protect the local citizens.

Agent Orange contains small amounts of dioxin (TCCD), an animal
poison that is extremely difficult to purge from the environment
-- and the human body.

Once TCCD has entered the body it is there to stay due to its
uncanny ability to dissolve in fats and to its rock solid
chemical stability, warns a World Health Organization (WHO)
briefing paper.

Between 1961 and 1971, U.S. military forces dropped more than
19 million gallons of herbicidal agents on the Republic of
Vietnam, including more than 12 million gallons of
dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange.

For a long time, the United States was reluctant to acknowledge
any connection between chronic illnesses among its veterans and
the use of the herbicide. Not until three years after the end of
the war did the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reluctantly
agree to sponsor medical examinations of a fraction of former
servicemen.

Finally, in 1988, under pressure from the former commander of
the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, the Pentagon
compiled a classified report with data linking Agent Orange to 28
life-threatening conditions, including birth defects, skin
disorders, neurological defects and almost every cancer known to
medical science.

Though the military initially denied knowing about the terrible
effects the herbicides have on human beings, military scientist
Dr. James Clary admitted the truth in 1988.

When we initiated the herbicide programme in the 1960s, we
were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin
contamination in the herbicide, Clary wrote in a letter to a
member of Congress investigating Agent Orange. However, because
the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly
concerned.

AMP Section Name:Food and Agriculture