Agent Orange victims, activists testify from around the world

(29-03-2006)

A two-day International Conference on Agent Orange/Dioxin Victims began in Ha Noi yesterday, and Viet Nam News here excerpts some of the speeches delivered on the conference’s opening day.

Deputy President of the Viet Nam Association for Victims of Agent Orange (AO)/Dioxin, Prof Nguyen Trong Nhan:

The patriotic war fought by the Vietnamese people for their independence and freedom ended more than 30 years ago.

However, Viet Nam and its people are still suffering from severe war wounds caused by the largest-ever chemical warfare conducted in the history of mankind.

According to the latest data provided by scientists at Columbia University, New York (Nature, April 2003), between 1961 and 1971 US forces sprayed large tracts of Viet Nam with about 80 million litres of defoliants and herbicides (half of which was Agent Orange), containing about 336kg of dioxin. This is a staggering amount, as dioxin is the most dangerous toxic known to man. It is well known that only 80g of dioxin dissolved in the water supply can eliminate an entire city of 8 million inhabitants.

This toxic chemical has destroyed the environment in several regions in South Viet Nam, as well as the lives of millions of Vietnamese people.

At this conference we would like to emphasise the harmful effects of dioxin on human health. The most recent list of dioxin-related diseases is far longer than the lists published by the American Academy of Science and the American Medical Institute in 1994 and 1996.

Families of AO victims are among the poorest in the country, unable to provide for themselves because of an absence of work capacity.

The Government of Viet Nam has made great efforts to help these victims. However, the capacity of a country suffering from decades of war and natural disasters is limited and it has not been able to meet all the needs of the victims.

Because of the United States’ former ignorance of its responsibilities, Vietnamese AO/dioxin victims have had no choice but to pursue a lawsuit against American chemical companies who earned enormous profits by providing these weapons of mass destruction to American armed forces for use in the Viet Nam War.

A member of Veterans for Peace in the US, Joan A Duffy Newberry:

Today, I will be speaking to you about one of the most devastating materials that the United States military has ever used: I am, of course, referring to AO which contained the highly toxic contaminant, dioxin.

The use of AO in Viet Nam produced unacceptable threats to life, violated international law, and created toxic wastelands that continued to kill and injure civilian populations long after the war was over.

I was commissioned in the US Air Force Nurse Corps shortly after graduating from college. I was sent to a large military base called Cam Ranh Bay in Viet Nam a year later.

At the hospital where I worked, there was a brick wall outside the emergency room that was covered in dead vines. I learned years later that the perimeter of Cam Ranh Bay was sprayed with AO on a regular basis because it was considered such an important military installation.

Like most Viet Nam veterans, I knew nothing about AO until years later, when I read about veterans with health problems who had begun to make the connection between exposure to AO and their illnesses.

Considering how toxic dioxin is, it is truly shocking that after extremely minimal experimentation, AO and other herbicides were shipped to Viet Nam in 1961 to aid the US in anti-guerrilla warfare efforts.

The AO used in Viet Nam was highly contaminated with dioxin. This was the direct result of the US military pressuring the chemical manufacturers to speed up production of AO because the military was using ever-increasing quantities of the herbicide, practically with abandon.

In an effort to work faster and increase production of AO, chemical companies paid little attention to quality control issues and the AO destined for Viet Nam became much more highly contaminated with dioxin as a result of sloppy, hasty manufacturing.

I urge you as fellow human beings to seek justice for the victims of AO. I implore you to do this for the sake of Viet Nam’s children and grandchildren, and also for the sake of the world’s children and grandchildren.

What we do now, here, to seek justice for the victims of AO could very well establish an international precedent that will hold governments and corporations responsible and accountable for their actions and protect future generations from the horror of such weapons.

An AO victim from Australia, Roger Bush:

I am here to represent 506 New Zealand Viet Nam veterans who live in the eastern States of Australia.

I, my children and my grandchildren suffer from the effects of AO, so this is a very personal issue for me.

New Zealand health specialists tell us that we can anticipate that AO will continue affecting us for the next seven generations.

Our children are the future of our country and we should focus on their health and wellbeing.

We confirm our support to the goals and the objectives of this conference and look forward to exploring the ways we can work together and assist the children and future generations who will be affected by AO.

President of Hatfield Consultants Ltd, West Vancouver, Canada, Thomas Boivin:

I will present the main results of scientific research conducted by the 10-80 Division of the Ministry of Health, Viet Nam, and Hatfield Consultants Ltd, Canada over the past 12 years.

Since 1994, Hatfield and 10-80 have worked together on Agent Orange - dioxin investigations in several provinces of Viet Nam.

Some conclusions and recommendations from the research:

- The dioxin problem in Viet Nam is manageable. The vast majority of the land and agricultural products in Viet Nam are not contaminated by dioxins.

- Through the research undertaken in A Luoi District, 10-80/Hatfield has shown that those areas sprayed with AO during the war are today no longer contaminated with high levels of dioxin. These areas do not, in general, pose a human health threat.

- However, soil and sediments immediately downstream from some former US military installations in Viet Nam, including hot spots at Bien Hoa, Da Nang and Phu Cat, continue to pose a health threat.

- Protection of the human population in the three hot spots should be the first priority. Community-based awareness programmes are needed to help people reduce their exposure to dioxins.

- The exact locations of the hot spots on former US bases must be identified.

- Financial assistance is required to deliver humanitarian assistance to people who have been affected and to help clean up the hot spots.

Report from South Korean victims of AO:

During the Viet Nam War, AO was randomly sprayed in the regions where the Korean Army was stationed.

There were at the time no instructions or notes on AO and soldiers said that it prevented them from being bitten by mosquitoes. Soldiers therefore applied it to their naked skin.

Since the 1970s, soldiers of various countries who participated in the Viet Nam War have begun to suffer from diseases with unknown causes.

According to investigations in 2003 by the Korea Land Research and Development Institute, patients suffering from exposure to AO would die 10-15 years later. Diseases linked to AO include 16 types of cancer, as well as extensive damage to the nervous system and genital development.

Twenty-six Korean victims and the Fellow Soldiers Meeting of Viet Nam brought lawsuits against Dow Chemical Company and six other manufacturers on July 18, 1994, the 30th anniversary of Korea sending troops to Viet Nam.

America used AO in Viet Nam in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

Reportedly, the American Government has again provided US$300 million to a science academy in the US to do more research on AO.

The US should apologise for its mistakes and use the $300 million to compensate AO victims, rather than spend it on belated and futile research. — VNS

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