[sixties-l] Fwd: Agent Orange Haunts Ties with U.S.

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue Aug 15 2000 - 02:33:12 CUT

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    >From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
    > *** 11-Aug-0* ***
    >Title: DEVELOPMENT-VIETNAM: Agent Orange Haunts Ties with U.S.
    >By Nguyen Nam Phuong
    >HANOI, Aug 11 (IPS) - Former foes Vietnam and the United States
    >have mended many fences in the five years since they re-
    >established diplomatic ties, but the legacy of the U.S. use of the
    >dioxin Agent Orange decades ago still strains relations.
    >In recent years, Vietnam's efforts to account for U.S. missing-
    >in-action servicemen have been commended and a historic bilateral
    >trade pact was signed in July. A visit to Vietnam by U.S.
    >President Bill Clinton has even been mooted at yearend.
    >But the issue of Agent Orange, which harks directly back to the
    >darkest days of the nations' enmity, refuses to go away. Recent
    >findings by an American scientist have put the dioxin, which the
    >U.S. army used as a defoliant in the 1960s and early 1970s during
    >the Vietnam War, back in the spotlight.
    >Dr Arnold Schecter, a professor of environmental sciences at
    >the University of Texas, has provided disturbing evidence that the
    >contaminating effects of the dioxin, in some areas, may be
    >lingering far longer than expected.
    >His research, which supports the conclusion of a group of
    >Canadian researchers last year, shows that the chemical has not
    >been washed away over the years at Agent Orange 'hot spots' as was
    >previously assumed, but is still evident in the food chain.
    >In late July, Schecter took blood samples from 20 people living
    >in the vicinity of a former U.S. air base at Bien Hoa near Ho Chi
    >Minh City, formerly called Saigon. Declassified records show
    >between 5,000 and 7,000 gallons of Agent Orange were spilled at
    >the base in a wartime accident.
    >Of the 20 people, whose diets consisted largely of fish from a
    >nearby river, 19 had abnormally high levels of dioxin.
    >''Nineteen out of 20 really surprised us,'' said Schecter.
    >''One woman had the highest level seen in Vietnam since the last
    >samples were taken during the war. That's a 135-fold increase
    >above the level for non-exposed Hanoi residents. It startled us,
    >it startled my group -- it's striking.''
    >The dioxin -- known for causing horrific birth defects,
    >particularly malformed limbs and mental retardation -- is reported
    >to have affected a million victims in Vietnam today. That means
    >many of the victims were born more than a decade after Agent
    >Orange was last sprayed in 1971.
    >Vietnamese officials have also long blamed the chemical -- of
    >which an estimated 72 million litres was used in central and
    >southern Vietnam -- for causing cancer, immune-deficiency diseases
    >and drug-resistant malaria.
    >The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently
    >affirmed that it was a known carcinogen.
    >But the U.S. government is reluctant to acknowledge the full
    >range of alleged effects, saying extensive scientific research
    >needs to be carried out.
    >''You can't make the linkages until you do the science,'' said
    >Douglas Peterson, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. ''This (Vietnam)
    >is the perfect laboratory, and hopefully we will arrive at some
    >scientific conclusion once and for all on what Agent Orange does
    >to people.''
    >On a visit to Vietnam in March, U.S. Defense Secretary William
    >Cohen expressed willingness on Washington's part to conduct joint
    >research with Vietnam.
    >Still, reaching a consensus on the effects of Agent Orange and
    >the scale of the problem is a prickly issue for the two
    >Potential compensation claims could be enormous. Some U.S.
    >legislators accuse the Vietnamese government of exploiting the
    >issue in order to get its hands on U.S. tax dollars.
    >The US government is under pressure from chemical
    >manufacturers, including former Agent Orange producers.
    >Conclusions on dioxin contamination by the U.S. Public Health
    >Service were reportedly withheld due to litigation from the
    >industry. There was also a possibility the EPA findings might be
    >The chemical industry has cause for worry. In prior cases,
    >20,000 American veterans sued Agent Orange manufacturers Dow
    >Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co. and eventually won a 180 million
    >U.S. dollar judgement.
    >The Veterans Administration also agreed to compensate American
    >Vietnam veterans suffering from various ailments, including cancer
    >and the birth defect spina bifida in their children.
    >For now, the U.S. government is insisting that Hanoi show
    >greater openness before cooperating in joint studies.
    >Five years ago, the only official U.S. scientific delegation to
    >have visited Vietnam for Agent Orange research had all its samples
    >and public health records seized at the airport.
    >In June, Dr Schecter was allowed to take blood samples to a
    >World Health Organisation-certified laboratory in Germany for
    >testing. The authorities drew the line, however, at food, soil and
    >sediment samples.
    >Hanoi might have reason for caution. Some observers suggest
    >that conclusive findings on dioxin contamination could pose a
    >threat to Vietnam's agricultural exports and tourism industry.
    >Dr Le Cao Dai, who as director of the Agent Orange Fund of the
    >Vietnamese Red Cross, collaborated with Dr Schecter, played down
    >that potential danger. In an interview with IPS, he cited research
    >by Italian scientists carried out in the 1970s that showed that
    >fruit grown in dioxin-affected areas did not bear harmful toxins.
    >He pointed to ''vague worries'' on the part of Vietnamese
    >authorities as the reason for their reluctance to allow the
    >necessary samples to go overseas.
    >''I have tried to persuade them that the results of Agent
    >Orange research will actually benefit our people, but it takes
    >time for them to understand and put their worries to rest,'' he
    >Dr Dai was confident, however, that a formal offer from
    >Washington on joint research would prompt full cooperation.
    >''Both sides are awaiting each other's green lights,'' he
    >explained. ''In my opinion, Vietnam has made enough signals to the
    >United States. Bill Clinton has acknowledged the affects of Agent
    >Orange on American veterans. I hope he will do the same toward
    >Vietnamese people before he leaves office.''
    >The United States, however continues to make ''openness'' from
    >Hanoi a prerequisite.
    >Said Schecter, who was received at the White House prior to his
    >trip to Vietnam: ''My government is concerned and wants to
    >announce collaborative health work between Vietnam and the United
    >States on Agent Orange, but there has to be open movement of
    >specimens and data, and it has to be shared.''
    >Amid this bilateral tussle, many people, not least Agent Orange
    >victims and their families, feel they have been waiting far too
    >long for results.
    >Some point to the fact that the United States is willing to
    >spend millions of dollars to recover the remains of missing-in-
    >action servicemen, but has yet to release any funds for Vietnamese
    >dioxin victims.
    >Earlier, Chuck Searcy, the Hanoi programme director of the
    >Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, expressed his impatience
    >with the U.S. stance.
    >''It's interesting that the health problems . . . associated
    >with dioxin are elevated to matters of national and international
    >concern when the issue arises in Europe or the US,'' he said.
    >Added Searcy: ''For nearly 30 years the situation in Vietnam
    >has been much worse than anywhere in the world, but we, the
    >United States, have refused to acknowledge the problem.''
    > [c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
    > All rights reserved

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