Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide the United States military used against Viet Cong fighters during the Vietnam war, is still having life-threatening effects on Vietnamese newborns 44 years after the war has ended.
The poisonous defoliant, which is a mixture of equal parts of two herbicides, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), was meant to destroy and kill trees and plants that Viet Cong fighters depended on for food and cover.
However, the traces of dioxin 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) found in the mixture reportedly causes birth defects related to the spine and brain, and over 15 types of cancer. Dubbed by the United Nations as “one of the most toxic compounds known to humans,” the chemical was widely used in Vietnam from 1961 to 1971 as part of the U.S. military’s herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand.
Throughout the decade, the U.S. sprayed about 75 million liters of Agent Orange directly over select rural areas in Vietnam. As a result, millions of people ended up being born with disabilities and deformities even decades after the war ended in 1975.
According to figures from the Vietnamese government over a decade ago, over three million people were affected. The United States, however, has maintained that the number is much lower.
It also caused significant environmental damage in the country, defoliating more than 3,100,000 hectares (31,000 km2 or 11,969 mi2) of forests. There has also been a sharp reduction in animal species diversity in the affected areas.
Experts have noted that generations of Vietnamese are still affected by the poisonous chemical as it has contaminated most of the affected areas’ food supply, which includes the vegetation and animals. Dioxin in Agent Orange is able to last long, clinging to surfaces and remaining in the ground or in sediment particles in water sources. Contaminated fish, animals or crops affect the people who eat them and the children they bear.
In central Vietnam’s Quang Tri province, where over two million liters of Agent Orange were dumped, locals are in dire need of healthcare and rehabilitation as children are still being born with defects linked to dioxin. Today, a total of 15,000 villagers out of its 600,000 population reportedly suffer from Agent Orange-related conditions, reports South China Morning Post.
The Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA), a group that has been fighting for compensation for victims, claim that over 3 million Vietnamese, spanning four generations, suffer from health conditions linked to Agent Orange.
While the U.S. government has so far provided $255 million in aid intended for areas affected by the herbicide since 2007, most of the funds allegedly were used to clean up Da Nang Air Base.
Recent findings by the US Congressional Research Service revealed that only a quarter of the amount went towards health programs for victims and most of the health care support was also focused on Da Nang.
Quang Tri villagers are reportedly only given “negligible” allowances by the Vietnamese government, according to a World Bank report. Each month the elderly and disabled receive an average of $2.24, while the affected children get up to $3.60.
Featured image (right) via YouTube/SBS Dateline