|A little bit of help, for
By Katrin Dauenhauer
WASHINGTON - More than 30 years after the
spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam by US troops during
the war, the health effects on US veterans and their
families as well as affected Vietnamese remain
devastating, experts say.
resulting from contamination with the chemical herbicide
persist in today's third generation of grandchildren of
the war and its victims - with no end in sight. An
estimated 650,000 victims suffer from chronic illnesses
in Vietnam alone, and another 500,000 have already died,
"This is not a historical
problem, but one with long-term consequences that have
to be addressed," said Dr Wayne Dwernychuk, senior vice
president of the Vancouver-based Hatfield Associates, an
environmental-impact consulting agency. Dwernychuk spoke
at a press briefing on Tuesday coordinated by the Fund
for Reconciliation and Development, Oxfam America and
the American Friends Service Committee.
Orange victims and their families have been fighting for
compensation since the 1970s. The most common result has
been out of court settlements after court proceedings
and negotiations that dragged on for years.
week, Representative Lane Evans, an Illinois Democrat,
plans to introduce a new bill in the congressional
committee on veterans affairs that will focus on aiding
the children of Vietnam veterans. A broader bill is
supposed to follow next year.
While the US
government has only reluctantly taken responsibility for
its own soldiers, it has shown even less interest in the
affected Vietnamese population.
A conference at
Yale University last April concluded that in Vietnam,
the US had conducted the "largest chemical warfare
campaign in history". No compensation for civilian
Vietnamese victims has ever been offered. "It does not
stretch current preoccupations to see Agent
Orange/dioxin as a kind of weapon of mass destruction,
finding its victims both among combatants and innocent
civilians. The intended prey may have been forests and
food supplies, but the ultimate price was and is paid by
human beings," said John McAuliff, executive director of
the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, in a
statement on Tuesday.
So far, the US government
has given no indication that it will aid Vietnamese
victims and their families, who have been exposed to
dioxin residues for the past 30 years. "It's very late
to do anything," said Madame Nguyen Thi Binh, who until
last year was the vice president of Vietnam. "We put
this issue directly on the table with the US. So far
they have not dealt with the problem. If our
relationship is ever to be normal, the US has to accept
US action is needed to address
humanitarian needs in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam as a
result of Agent Orange and related war legacies, she
said, adding, "Go and see the situation for yourself."
"In general, Americans find the case for
responsibility for consequences to fall more clearly
upon other countries than upon ourselves. This may be
another example of American exceptionalism, linked
psychologically and politically to rejection of the
International Criminal Court," said McAuliff.
Dwernychuk and a group of other environmental
scientists recently conducted research on dioxin levels
from wartime herbicides. The study found that rather
than naturally dispersing, Agent Orange has remained in
the ground in concentrations more than 100 times the
safe levels for farmland in Canada.
be proposed until hell freezes over," said Dwernychuk,
"but they are not going to assist the Vietnamese in a
humanitarian sense one iota. We state emphatically that
no additional research on human health is required to
facilitate intervention or to protect the local
Agent Orange contains small amounts
of a dioxin called 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzon-p-dioxin
(TCCD), an animal poison that is extremely difficult to
purge from the environment - and the human body. "Once
TCCD has entered the body it is there to stay due to its
uncanny ability to dissolve in fats and to its
rock-solid chemical stability," warns a World Health
Organization briefing paper.
Between 1961 and
1971, US military forces dropped about 72 million liters
of herbicidal agents on the Republic of Vietnam,
including more than 45 million liters of
dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange. For a long time, the
US was reluctant to acknowledge any connection between
chronic illnesses among its veterans and the use of the
herbicide. Not until three years after the end of the
war did the US Department of Veterans Affairs
reluctantly agree to sponsor medical examinations of a
fraction of former servicemen.
Finally, in 1988,
under pressure from the former commander of the US Navy
in Vietnam, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, the Pentagon compiled
a classified report with data linking Agent Orange to 28
life-threatening conditions, including birth defects,
skin disorders, neurological defects and almost every
cancer known to medical science.
military initially denied knowing about the terrible
effects the herbicides have on human beings, military
scientist Dr James Clary admitted the truth in 1988.
"When we initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s,
we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin
contamination in the herbicide," Clary wrote in a letter
to a member of Congress investigating Agent Orange.
"However, because the material was to be used on the
enemy, none of us were overly concerned."