---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 30 Jun 2002 14:06:58 -0700
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
"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
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
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
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.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Jul 09 2002 - 18:29:38 EDT