Agent Orange Still Taking A Toll

<"">Agent Orange, a defoliant widely used during the Vietnam War to remove enemy hiding places, contained one of the most toxic forms of dioxin, which has been linked to some cancers.

In 2006, on his visit to Hanoi, President George W. Bush promised to work on the Agent Orange issue; Congress approved $9 million to address, in part, environmental cleanup, said The Associated Press (AP). Despite agreeing to the cleanup, the U.S. government says no clear connection exists between health problems and Agent Orange, the AP pointed out. The Vietnamese government disagrees saying that more monies are needed to manage the environmental and health problems that exist due to Agent Orange, said the AP.

Speaking about the $6 million allocated thus far, Le Ke Son, deputy general administrator of Vietnam’s Environmental Administration said, “Six million dollars is nothing compared to the consequences left behind by Agent Orange…. How much does one Tomahawk missile cost?” quoted the AP.

The AP discussed the ravages suffered by families who watched while Agent Orange was repeatedly dumped on their villages and near their homes, citing grown children unable to stand, left to crawl around a few steps at a time; teens painfully suffering from twisted arms and legs, confined to wheel chairs; and children with bent spines and horrific lumps

In a prior piece, the New York Times said Agent Orange was the most common herbicide used in the war. The AP notes that between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. military sprayed about 11 million gallons of the herbicide across southern Vietnam, a significant issue since dioxin remains in soil and at the bottom of lakes and rivers for decades, easily entering the food chain. Vietnam reports that four million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange and the bulk—about three million, including children of those exposed to the toxin—suffer today, said the AP. The U.S. government says the Vietnamese are exaggerating, blaming Agent Orange for other causes, such as malnutrition, wrote the AP.

“Scientists around the world have done a lot of research on dioxin and its possible health effects,” said Michael Michalak, the U.S. ambassador in Hanoi. “There is disagreement as to what’s real and what isn’t, about what the possible connections are,” quoted the AP.

We recently wrote that a proposal on Agent Orange health claims, issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs, would ease the process for Agent Orange-injured veterans to make claims for disability payments and health care services. Under the proposal, three illnesses—B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia; Parkinson’s disease; and ischemic heart disease—will be added to the growing list of illnesses presumed caused by Agent Orange.

And, while this move helps Americans, the Vietnamese remain frustrated. “American and Vietnamese Agent Orange victims haven’t been treated the same way, and it’s not fair,” said Tran Xuan Thu, secretary general of the Vietnam Agent Orange Victims Association, quoted the AP. The Association filed suit against the U.S. manufacturers of Agent Orange in 2005; a U.S. court rejected the lawsuit. “It’s not in keeping with the humanitarian traditions of the United States. I hope the American people will raise their voices and ask their government and the chemical companies to take responsibility,” added Xuan Thu.

Other presumed Agent Orange illnesses include: Acute and Subacute Transient Peripheral Neuropathy, AL Amyloidosis, Chloracne, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2), Hodgkin’s Disease, Multiple Myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Porphyria Cutanea Tarda, Prostate Cancer, Respiratory Cancers, and
Soft Tissue Sarcoma (other than Osteosarcoma, Chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or Mesothelioma).

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