May 14, 2001
Study Links Vietnamese, High Dioxin
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Thirty years after the U.S. military stopped spraying the defoliant Agent
Orange, a new study by American researchers shows the level of dioxin in
the bloodstreams of some Vietnamese remains ``alarmingly high.''
Public health researchers say residents of Bien Hoa City in south Vietnam
show dioxin levels as much as 135 times higher than in residents in Hanoi,
Vietnam's capital hundreds of miles to the north where the defoliant was
Bien Hoa was a major U.S. air force base and important chemical depot
during the Vietnam War.
Most disturbingly, they said, some of the affected residents did not live
in Bien Hoa during the war and others are children born many years after
the war ended, indicating they were recently exposed to a persistent source
Agent Orange exposure has been associated with cancer, birth defects and
miscarriages, although a direct link to those health problems remains unproven.
The results are published in the Tuesday issue of the Journal of
Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Agent Orange has long been a knotty dilpmatic subject for both nations.
These latest results appear during a particularly tense juncture as
Congress delays ratifying a trade pact with Hanoi and amid revelations that
former Sen. Bob Kerry conducted a raid in which 13 civilians were killed.
But scientists said today's politics should not overshadow the study's
``We have a public health crisis for the people living in Bien Hoa City,''
said Arnold Schecter, the study's lead author and an environmental
scientist at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas.
``These are the highest levels we've seen since 1973 after Agent Orange
spraying was stopped,'' said Schecter, who has worked in Vietnam since
1984. ``I have never seen children born after the spraying with levels so
Other public health researchers who did not participate in the study said
Agent Orange remains a tragic legacy of the war that cannot be ignored.
They said the problem probably is confined to a handful of dioxin
``hotspots'' that could be surveyed and cleaned up with adequate funding.
``Although wishful thinkers might have assumed the problem would go away
over time, that data indicate that for some populations the exposure
continues,'' said Michael Gochfeld of the University of Medicine and
Dentistry of New Jersey.
Between 1962 and 1971, U.S. military tanker planes and helicopters sprayed
20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other defoliants in Operation Ranch
Hand to deny cover to insurgent Communist forces.
The defoliants were contaminated with TCDD, the most dangerous form of dioxin.
Soldiers on both sides, as well as local residents, were drenched by the
sweet-smelling herbicide. Today, thousands of American servicemen and their
families receive disability benefits for health problems related to Agent
Among Vietnam's 76 million people, more than 1 million are believed to be
disabled, including 150,000 children.
In many places, the Vietnamese countryside has not rebounded from the
defoliant, but the environmental damage is not uniform.
Bien Hoa, located near Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) was one of the
biggest Agent Orange stockpiles. In the late 1960s, more than 7,500 gallons
of the defoliant spilled there.
Schecter reports at least two sediment and soil samples from the area
showed TCDD levels as high as 600,000 parts per trillion. In the United
States, he said, government cleanups have been ordered for levels as low as
Throughout Vietnam, more than 2,400 blood samples collected by the Red
Cross showed the TCDD levels in humans typically runs about 2 ppt. In Bien
Hoa, TCDD levels in 20 people sampled peaked at 271 ppt, and were higher
than normal in each case, Schecter said.
Left unproven is how the dioxin worked its way into humans. Schecter
suspects it accumulates in the fatty tissues of fish and water fowl, both
of which are important local food sources. Vietnam has not allowed Schecter
to analyze food samples.
Even without those laboratory results, Schecter and other epidemiologists
say they recommend supplying residents near the Bien Hoa hotspot with clean
food and water. Then, contaminated sediments and soils can be removed.
Scientists said the hotspot could serve as a test bed for public health
programs and new cleanup technologies. It also could be useful in finding
American servicemen and Vietnamese emigrants who were exposed during the
war, they said.
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