>From: IGC News Desk <firstname.lastname@example.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
>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
>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
>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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