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Impact of catastrophic Agent Orange disaster still lingers

Sixty years have passed since the US army dropped tens of millions of extremely toxic chemicals on various areas across the south of Vietnam, but their devastating impact still lingers, destroying the environment and claiming the lives of many generations of Agent Orange (AO) victims.

About 4.8 million Vietnamese people have been exposed to AO, and more than 3 million others who are their second, third, and even fourth generations have still suffered from pains and losses even when the war ended nearly 50 years ago.

In 1961, then US President J. Kennedy authorised chemical warfare, aside from the “hot war”, in Vietnam.

To conceal their plan from the public, the US Department of Defence used the code name “Operation Ranch Hand” and spread a false belief among US troops and people that the chemicals used were just normal herbicides and defoliants aimed to uncover the enemy’s hiding places and minimise casualties for the US army and its alliance’s troops, and that they were not hazardous to animals and did not have considerable impact on human health.

However, it is a fact that the chemical warfare waged by the US in Vietnam was the largest and longest one causing the most destructive consequences in human history.

From 1961 to 1971, the US army conducted 19,905 missions, spraying about 80 million litres of toxic chemicals - 61 percent of which, containing 366kg of dioxin, was AO - on 3.06 million ha of land in southern Vietnam, equivalent to nearly 25 percent of the south’s total area. Up to 86 percent of the affected area was sprayed more than twice, and 11 percent more than 10 times.

This lead to severe environmental pollution as seen in the undermined water storage and flood mitigation functions of forests,  the biodiversity loss, the extinction of some rare fauna and flora species, and the mushrooming of rodents and weeds.

Nowadays, the toxic chemicals dropped by the US military are still present in some southern areas and have become sources of pollution.

At the second international workshop on the toxic chemicals used by the US in the Vietnam war and their impact on the nature and human held in Hanoi in 1993, many Vietnamese and foreign scientists affirmed that those toxic chemicals destroyed the nature and human health and caused many acute diseases and genetic mutations passed from mothers or fathers.

In July 2009, a report by the US Institute of Medicine proved the links between the exposure to AO/dioxin and five diseases, namely soft tissue sarcoma, benign lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, cancer, and chloracne.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Health also confirmed 17 diseases, disorders, deformities, and malformations connected with AO/dioxin.

An estimated 3 million Vietnamese people have had their health affected due to the exposure to toxic chemicals/dioxin. Among them, at least 150,000 children suffer from inborn defects and at least 1 million people suffer from serious impacts of AO, according to the Vietnam Association for AO Victims and the Vietnam Red Cross Society.

Not only Vietnamese but a large number of soldiers of the US, the Republic of Korea, Australia, and New Zealand who used to fight in Vietnam and their descendants have also got many diseases caused by the AO exposure and after-effects.

Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Commander of the US naval forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970, said at least 2,100 US soldiers were exposed to AO.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Korea’s association of war veterans exposed to AO estimated that about 100,000 of the 300,000 Korean soldiers fighting in Vietnam are victims of AO, more than 20,000 of them have died.

Scientists believed that the impact of AO may last for hundreds of years and affect tens of millions of people, and the number of generations suffering from after-effects will not be limited to four, making the AO disaster the worst chemical one in human history./.