[sixties-l] A Toxic Burden (US in Vietnam) (fwd)

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Date: Tue Jul 09 2002 - 18:01:47 EDT

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    Date: Sun, 30 Jun 2002 14:06:58 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: A Toxic Burden (US in Vietnam)

    A Toxic Burden


    Despite mounting scientific evidence, Washington refuses to accept
    the deadly legacy of its chemical warfare in Vietnam.

    by George Sanchez June 24, 2002

    US planes sprayed an estimated 72 million liters of toxic
    defoliant over southern Vietnam between 1962 and 1971.

    A team of scientists is providing new evidence confirming the
    devastating legacy of America's chemical weapons program in
    Vietnam -- a legacy which officials in Washington continue to

    During a four-day conference in Hanoi this March, a group of
    Canadian and Vietnamese consulting firms unveiled research data
    showing how deadly chemical byproducts of the powerful defoliant
    Agent Orange continue to contaminate the soil, food and water in
    an isolated Vietnamese valley. The researchers further found that
    areas where large amounts of Agent Orange were spilled --
    particularly US special forces bases and dump sites -- act as
    poisonous chemical 'reservoirs,' posing a long-term threat as the
    contaminants gradually seep into the surrounding lands.

    American and Vietnamese officials signed an agreement during the
    March conference directing the two governments to cooperate on
    future research of Agent Orange. Still, while Washington is
    providing Vietnamese scientists with technical advice and some
    equipment to aid in the research, the agreement does not commit
    the US to provide any direct aid to help clean up the
    contamination -- something Vietnamese officials say they will
    continue to pursue.

    "We are not going to do any clean up," said Dr. William Farland,
    the Environmental Protection Agency's acting deputy assistant
    administrator for science. "We're working to give them the tools
    they need to find hotspots of contamination and evaluate clean up
    technologies. We're giving them advice, transferring technology,
    providing equipment and training. There is an issue as to whether
    we'll aid in the clean up."

    Moreover, US officials continue to question the evidence linking
    Agent Orange usage to the dioxin contamination and to the myriad
    medical woes haunting the Vietnamese people -- both those exposed
    to the defoliant during the war and those born since the
    conflict's end.

    "While the [new] research is useful in helping to outline the
    potential scope of exposure in Vietnam, it is very limited in
    providing any conclusive answers about health effects," stated Dr.
    Anne Sassaman in a written response to questions. The director of
    the division of extramural research and training at the US
    National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Sassaman
    represented the US government in signing the research agreement at
    the March conference in Hanoi.

    While acknowledging it is possible that US contributions to the
    study "may involve intervention activities," Sassaman states that
    the program to which the US has committed "will be focused solely
    on research." State Department spokesperson Brenda Greenberg
    confirmed Sassaman's assessment, saying that the agreement signed
    in March details the full extent of Washington's expected

    Still, Vietnamese officials say they will continue to push the US
    to provide monetary support along with the technical guidance.

    "We hold that anyone with a conscience would support our argument
    that while promoting scientific studies, it is necessary at the
    same time to carry out relief activities to overcome the
    consequences for the victims," says Vu Van Dzung, a spokesman at
    the Vietnamese consulate in San Francisco.

    American scientists have long known of Agent Orange's deadly side
    effects. Long-term exposure to dioxin, a byproduct of one of the
    defoliant's chemical ingredients, has been linked to cancer, birth
    defects, and degenerative diseases, such as spina bifida. As of
    1998, nearly 6,000 US veterans of the war in Vietnam had qualified
    for government benefits to cover medical costs related to Agent
    Orange exposure. Vietnamese officials estimate that nearly a half
    million people have been killed or injured as a result of the
    contamination in their country, while another half million
    children have been born with serious health problems.

    Still, little research has been done to determine the full extent
    of the contamination. The data presented at the March conference,
    the result of a seven-year study by Vancouver-based Hatfield
    Consultants Limited, lays out a chilling picture of a
    still-poisoned land.

    Surveying land that was aerially sprayed and specific sites that
    were used for storage and supply facilities, the Hatfield
    scientists found extremely high levels of
    tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin at several locations in the remote A
    Luoi Valley, located in central Vietnam, along the border with

    The highest level of contamination, the report states, was found
    at a former US Special forces base near the village of A So,
    located at the southeastern end of the A Luoi Valley. The levels
    of dioxin contamination found in A So -- and at several other
    former US bases in the valley -- were far higher than those found
    in parts of the valley that were only targeted by aerial spraying,
    the Hatfield report states. Soil samples taken in 1999 from A So,
    for instance, contained dioxin levels that exceeded acceptable
    levels established in 1998 by NATO by 85.7 percent, the Hatfield
    report states.

    The United States Army began using herbicides such as Agent Orange
    as early as 1962 as part of a campaign to cut through Vietnam's
    thick jungle canopy. Most commonly sprayed from C-123 cargo
    planes, the herbicides were used to uncover Vietcong camps and
    trails and to destroy the guerrilla army's food supplies. The US
    military didn't stop using Agent Orange until 1971, nearly two
    years after American scientists found that one of the chemical
    components used in the herbicide cause birth defects in laboratory
    animals and well after Vietnamese and American doctors began
    reporting a dramatic increase in unexplained ailments among
    soldiers and civilians exposed to the spraying. It is estimated
    that over 72 million liters of herbicide was used in Vietnam, and
    that Agent Orange was at one point sprayed over much as 10% of
    southern Vietnam.

    The Hatfield scientists chose the A Luoi Valley because it has
    seen little development in the three decades since US forces
    stopped spraying Agent Orange. As a result, scientists were able
    to link the existing dioxin contamination directly to Agent Orange
    exposure. Still, the Hatfield team's leader predicts that further
    reserach elsewhere in southern Vietnam will find similar levels of
    contamination wherever Agent Orange was used.

    "The pattern of dioxin distribution in the A Luoi Valley could
    serve to mirror the situation of all of Southern Vietnam," says
    Dr. L. Wayne Dwernychuk, vice president of Hatfield Consultants.

    In fact, at least one other team of American scientists working in
    Vietnam have uncovered a pattern of dioxin contamination that
    supports Dwernychuk's assertion. In March, a team led by Dr.
    Arnold Schecter, a professor of Environmental Sciences at the
    University of Texas, published the results of research conducted
    in Bien Hoa City, the site of a large US base.

    In early 1970, 7,500 gallons of Agent Orange were spilled at the
    Bien Hoa base. Earlier that same year, three smaller spills were
    also recorded. More than 30 years later, the dioxin from those
    spills continues to contaminate the area, Schecter's team found.
    In a paper published in the Journal of Occupational and
    Environmental Medicine, the group reported that blood tests on
    residents of Bien Hoa area showed a 207-fold increase in dioxin
    levels. "Usual blood [dioxin levels] in Vietnamese is 2 parts per
    trillion, and we found up to 413 [parts per trillion]," Schecter

    According to the Hatfield report, the levels of dioxin
    contamination found at multiple sites in the A Luoi valley would
    be cause for immediate federal action if found in the United
    States. With Washington refusing to provide funding to support a
    cleanup effort, however, Dwernychuk says the poison will probably
    stay in the ground, a constant threat to residents across southern

    "Basically, my assessment .... is that it will be a slow
    bureaucratic process that will not address the immediate
    humanitarian needs of a large segment of the Vietnamese
    population," Dwernychuk says. What do you think?
    George Sanchez is the Independent Press
    Association/MotherJones.com reporting fellow.

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