Contamination Of VI Et Nam With Dioxin essay example

1,287 words
Though the American war in Vi^et Nam has been over for almost 30 years, hundreds of thousands of innocent children still suffer horrific, painfully sad birth deformities and other illnesses, as the effects of Agent Orange defoliant used by Americans enters a third generation. Between 1962 and 1971, the US employed chemical weapons by spraying more than 75 million litres of defoliants, containing almost 375 pounds of dioxin - the most dangerous chemical known to man - over massive areas of southern Vi^et Nam. The chemical defoliant's main purpose was to destroy Vi^et Nam's dense tropical foliage and mountain jungles that served as excellent cover for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Vi^et Cong. It was also used to clear L.Z. 's, or helicopter landing zones and to push back concealing foliage around air bases, army posts and roads, as well as to destroy croplands potentially used by enemy forces and to compel farmers to leave their homes for concentration camps, or pacified areas controlled by US or South Vietnamese forces.

Along with other chemical weapons - including Agent Green, Agent Purple, Agent White, Agent Blue and Agent Pink, Agent Orange and Agent Super Orange were extremely successful in turning lush tropical forests into barren wastelands that are today still believed to be irreversibly altered. Agent Orange accounted for approximately 60% of all defoliants used, which in total destroyed 50% of Vi^et Nam's mangrove forests and had serious effects on wildlife populations. The contamination of Vi^et Nam with dioxin, had it's beginnings during WWII in the laboratory of Professor E.J. Kraus - of the University of Chicago's botany department. Kraus had contacted the War Department with the discovery of specific plant hormones that regulate growth.

Although military testing began immediately on the hormone scientifically named 2, 4-dichorophenoxyacetic (2, 4-D) - which in heavy doses killed broadleaf plants endemic to the tropics - WWII ended before any real combat applications were possible. Testing continued after the war, and different versions of the herbicide appeared in commercial use for lawn care and other applications including railroad track maintenance. Meanwhile, army scientists had further developed the discovery into a potent mixture of 2, 4-D and the closely related 2, 4, 5-Trichlorophenoxyaxetic, (2, 4, 5-T) which contained as a by-product of the manufacturing process, 2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin. By 1961 America's new weapon was considered ready for use in anti guerrilla warfare. The Kennedy administration's military establishment was eager to field test this powerful new weapon in Vi^et Nam, and in 1962 Operation Hades - aka Ranch Hand, whose odious motto became", Only You Can Prevent Forests " - began it's massive defoliation program. By 1971 - with the discontinuance of the spraying operation - US forces destroyed about one-tenth of southern Vi^et Nam, by dumping on it a total of more than 75,000,000 litres of dioxin laced chemical herbicides.

Forty years later these ecosystems and populated areas are still considered highly toxic by Vietnamese authorities and other western scientists. It is believed that Agent Orange is responsible for more than 150,000 cases of varying birth deformities and about 1,000,000 other major health maladies including respiratory cancer, skin disease, heart disease and diabetes. Vietnamese researchers believe that the dioxin from Agent Orange has moved through the food chain into people living in contaminated areas. They also know that NVA soldiers who served in southern battlefields were contaminated in a number of different ways including through direct exposure. However, with a still developing economy the Vietnamese government has lacked sufficient funds to fully study the effects of the dioxin - and the limited money available is spent on medical care. Organizations including - but not limited to - the Vietnam Red Cross, Tu Du Hospital, Friendship Village (operated by the Vietnam Veterans Association), Thanh Xuan-Peace Village and the Centre of Thai Binh Social Sponsoring all do miraculous work in caring for children suffering from Agent Orange related illnesses who to some degree can care for themselves.

Vocational training plays an important part with capable children, who learn skills that allow them to integrate into society regardless of their disabilities. Unfortunately, Vi^et Nam's financial and medical resources are not able to cope with the extremely ill and disabled who need constant daily care, and sadly thousands of disenfranchised children live in pained obscurity never receiving vital medical care. The most comprehensive study done to date on Agent Orange, is by Vancouver based Hatfield Consultants Ltd. - which specializes in providing environmental impact assessment services to a wide range of clients. HCL has been studying the effects of Agent Orange dioxin in The Alu oi Valley, Vi^et Nam - 65 km west of Hue - since 1994 and their report confirms high dioxin contamination of human blood, breast milk, pond sediment, fish and soil in this area. However, the US refuses to recognize any study on the effects of Agent Orange in Vi^et Nam as definitive, and Washington's official stance on this issue has always been to dispute the limited Vietnamese research as insufficient and inconclusive. A complete contradiction if one considers that in 1979 the US passed law to permit studies into the effects of Agent Orange exposure on it's servicemen.

After four years of perceived government inaction, US veterans filed a class action lawsuit against 7 major Agent Orange manufacturers. Then in 1984, the US Federal High Court confirmed that $180 million would be indemnified to the 15,000 war veteran claimants - with health problems considered caused by Agent Orange - although eventually 250,000 claims would be filed. Finally, an historic three day conference took place this past March in Ha N^oi between American and Vietnamese scientists, to arrive at a definitive conclusion regarding the consequences of it's chemical warfare program in Vi^et Nam. However, studying the effects of pollutants or toxins on human health are extremely difficult, timely and costly to conduct, and largely conclude with the necessity for more research. Skeptics pose the following questions, how can you prove a person's exposure or contact with the toxin, the degree of exposure received, and the possible effects of exposure.

In determining health outcomes scientists look for "cause and effect". For example, as it is widely accepted that lung cancer may be caused by cigarette smoking, you can account for the disease in an individual who smokes, but how do you account for lung cancer in someone who does not smoke, or an individual who smokes and never gets the disease? If the new joint study is said again by US officials to be inconclusive, can they continue to morally deny that given the facts about dioxin and Agent Orange use in Vi^et Nam, a real possibility does exist that there are Vietnamese victims of dioxin contamination - and that appropriate aide reaches those that need it. Therefore - in order to reach a just conclusion - it is paramount that known facts play a part in determining dioxin poisoning in Vi^et Nam. In respect to the Agent Orange used during American spraying operations in southern Vi^et Nam, we know this. Agent Orange was reported to be contaminated with dioxin levels between 0.05 parts per million to almost 50. parts per million - the mean contamination was considered to be between 0.50 - 2.0 parts per million.

We also know that the dioxin levels in domestic preparations of 2, 4, 5-T were present in much lower concentrations around 0.05 ppm, which made the stock shipped to Vi^et Nam as much as 1,000 times more lethal.