Agent Orange was used by the United States during the Vietnam War (1959-1975) as a defoliant. US forces routinely sprayed the defoliant to clear areas of jungle where they believed "Communist forces" were hiding, and to destroy their crops. During Operation Ranch Hand, which lasted from 1962 to the early days of 1971, some 19 million gallons of herbicide was sprayed on Vietnamese and Laotian lands to remove the forest cover that shielded the Viet Cong and to destroy crops. Various formulations were used; most were mixtures of the phenoxy herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. The different formulations were named according to the color-coded drums they were shipped in; the most widely used--and perhaps the best remembered--was Agent Orange, composed of equal parts 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. Today, the term "Agent Orange" is used as a catchall phrase to describe all of these compounds.
These herbicides were contaminated with minute amounts of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD, also known as dioxin), a by-product of the manufacturing process for 2,4,5-T. TCDD has a half-life of 8.7 years in humans. It is a persistent organic pollutant; after 25 years since the end of the Vietnam War, a quarter of the TCDD released through herbicide spraying is still in the Vietnamese environment. TCDD has been found to be biologically active at minuscule concentrations. The EPA regulated TCDD in drinking water at a concentration of 13 parts per quintillion.
TCDD has been shown to suppress the immune system in animals, and has caused cleft palate and ureter defects in mice. Rats exposed to TCDD have shown hormonal imbalances, which may affect the development and function of the endocrine system. TCDD is also believed to cause cancers such as Hodgkin disease and soft-tissue sarcoma, liver damage, reproductive problems such as spina bifida and miscarriage, neurotoxicity, and skin effects such as chloracne, which causes severe acne-like lesions. In January 2001, the National Toxicology Program published an addendum to the Report on Carcinogens, Ninth Edition, listing TCDD as a known human carcinogen.
People who have certain medical conditions are eligible to receive a disability stipend from the Government of Vietnam Agent Orange Central Payments Program of up to 300,000 Vietnamese Dong (or $17) per month. As of 2009 there were over 200,000 victims of Agent Orange receiving amonthly allowance from this program with the budget of about $50 million per year. The annual cost of providing a $17 per month stipend to all of Vietnam's estimated 2.1-4.8 million victim of Agent Orange would be $360 million to $820 million.
Although 180 million USD has been paid out to American veterans who fought in Viet Nam, there has never been any compensation paid to the Vietnamese. Scientists have stated that the defoliant can cause cancer, diabetes, birth defects and other problems. Vietnamese citizens who have suffered a lifetime of health problems after being exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are suing the American chemical companies that provided the US Defence Department with the toxic defoliant. In the lawsuit filed in March 2005, it was alleged that up to four million Vietnamese suffered persistent respiratory and reproductive problems as a result of being contaminated by AO. They are seeking compensation from 37 companies, such as Dow Chemical and Monsanto.
U.S relations have witnessed dramatically development since the mid-1990s following political normalization. A series of bilateral summits have helped drive theimprovement of ties, including President George W. Bush's visit to Hanoi in November 2006 and President Nguyen Minh Triet's visit to Washington in June 2007. The US-VietNam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin was set up in 2007 in the framework of track two (non-govemmental) dialog. The Dialogue Group seeks to draw attention to the range of human andenvironment needs related to Agent Orange/Dioxin in Viet Nam and to identify practical andeffective fields in which donors can help to address those needs.
The International People's Tribunal of Conscience in Paris made its final judgment on 18 May 2009, concluding that the use of dioxin by the US military in Vietnam from 1961 and 1971 was a war crime against humanity. The tribunal asked the US Government, and the chemical companies who manufactured and supplied AO, to fully compensate the AO victims and their families. The tribunal also demanded they restore the environment to what it was before the war and eradicate any dioxin from Vietnam and its waters, especially hot spots around former US military bases.
With the support of funds approved by Congress in FY 2007 and FY 2009, the US is moving ahead with collaborative efforts to help Vietnam address environmental contamination and related health concerns. The $3 million included in the FY2007 supplemental appropriations bill for "environmental remediation and health activities" at "hot spots" in Vietnam is central to US efforts to address environmental and health concerns. An additional $3 million in FY2009 funding is available for Agent Orange/dioxin activities in Vietnam.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|