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The War Crime of Agent Orange in Viêt Nam and its Lingering Effects


"Chúng tôi không chỉ là người mắc phải, chúng tôi còn là những người đang bị xã hội bỏ rơi. Chúng tôi cần sự quan tâm và chia sẻ từ xã hội." - Lê Văn Hà, người mắc chất độc da cam/dioxin.
 "We are not only the affected individuals, but we are also the ones who are being abandoned by society. We need attention and sharing from society." 
- Le Van Ha, a person affected by Agent Orange/dioxin.

On April 26th, 2023, I visited the Support Center for Agent Orange Victims and Children in Da Nang City and participate in firsthand observation to gain insight into the devastating effects of a chemical warfare agent. With a focus on comprehending governmental and outside support provided to those impacted by Agent Orange, a comprehensive understanding of the physical and psychological challenges faced by affected individuals can be obtained. Additionally, one can gain appreciation for the adaptive strategies harnessed by affected individuals, including social and cultural adjustments that allow continues participant in their communities. Through a combination of personal interactions with staff and patients, direct observation of daily operations, and analysis of the effectiveness of services provided, one can gain a nuanced interpretation of the complex dynamics at play in the effort to address Agent Orange exposure. Examining the role of both Vietnamese and international organizations in providing support and the specific challenges faced in doing so can provide valuable insight into the political and social ramifications of this issue. While language and cultural barriers may pose difficulties in grasping the full scope of the impact of Agent Orange, ongoing research is being conducted to expound on the circumstances surrounding its development and prevalence.


Support Center for Agent Orange Victims and Children in Da Nang City

The Support Center for Agent Orange Victims and Children in Da Nang City is a government-funded organization that provides care and support for over forty individuals affected by exposure to Agent Orange. The center is solely run by Vietnamese staff, some of whom are themselves impacted by the chemical agent. While various organizations may make appearances at the center, it is primarily supported by the Vietnamese government.


What is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange was a herbicide and defoliant chemical used by the United States military during the Vietnam War. The chemical contained the highly toxic compound dioxin, which has caused severe health and environmental impacts in Vietnam. U.S. military officials believed that Agent Orange could be effective in stripping the foliage from the jungle canopy, exposing enemy positions and disrupting their ability to move undetected. In 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy approved the use of Agent Orange as a tactical weapon in Vietnam. As the war progressed, the use of Agent Orange became increasingly widespread, with an estimated 20 million gallons of the chemical being sprayed across Vietnam between 1961 and 1971. The decision to use Agent Orange was controversial, and concerns were raised early on about the potential health and environmental risks associated with the chemical. However, military officials continued to view Agent Orange as a valuable tool in their efforts to gain the upper hand in the conflict.


Today, many areas in Vietnam, including Da Nang, are still affected by Agent Orange contamination. The chemical has caused long-term health effects on the Vietnamese people, including birth defects, cancers, and other diseases.The active ingredient in Agent Orange is a dioxin called 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), which is a highly toxic and persistent environmental contaminant. During the Vietnam War, the approximate 20 million gallons of Agent Orange did not only impact Vietnam but other areas in Laos, and Cambodia. This widespread use of the chemical has resulted in significant environmental contamination and human health impacts, both in Vietnam and among U.S. military personnel who were exposed to the chemical. Many areas in Vietnam remain contaminated with dioxins from Agent Orange, particularly around former U.S. military bases and airfields where the chemical was stored and handled. These areas include the Da Nang Airbase, Bien Hoa Airbase, and Phu Cat Airbase. According to the Vietnamese government, over three million people in Vietnam have been affected by Agent Orange.


Efforts have been made to clean up contaminated areas, but progress has been slow due to the complex and persistent nature of dioxins. The U.S. government has also provided funding for programs to assist Vietnamese individuals and families affected by Agent Orange, including healthcare, vocational training, and disability benefits. The Vietnamese government has been working to clean up and remediate contaminated areas, but progress has been slow due to the complex nature of dioxin. However, there have been recent efforts by both the Vietnamese and U.S. governments to address the issue, including the construction of a dioxin remediation project at Da Nang airport.


In Da Nang and other areas of Vietnam, Agent Orange was heavily used, particularly along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and the Ho Chi Minh trail. The following are some statistics related to Agent Orange exposure in these areas:

  1. According to the Vietnam Red Cross, approximately 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, with about 3 million suffering from health problems related to the exposure.

  2. In Da Nang specifically, the US military stored and mixed Agent Orange on a site known as the Da Nang Airbase. According to the Vietnamese government, the soil at the airbase remains contaminated with dioxin, with levels up to 350 times higher than the recommended safe level.

  3. In recent years, the US and Vietnamese governments have worked together to clean up the Da Nang Airbase, with the US committing $300 million to the effort. As of 2021, the cleanup was reportedly 95% complete.

  4. Despite cleanup efforts, the effects of Agent Orange exposure continue to be felt in Vietnam. According to the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, there are currently around 3 million Vietnamese people suffering from health problems related to Agent Orange exposure, including cancer, birth defects, and other illnesses.

  5. In addition to the human toll, Agent Orange had a significant impact on the environment in Vietnam. It is estimated that around 10% of Vietnam's forests were destroyed by Agent Orange, and the chemical also contaminated soil and waterways, posing ongoing risks to wildlife and ecosystems.

  6. The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes several health conditions as related to Agent Orange exposure, including certain types of cancer, Parkinson's disease, and type 2 diabetes. Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and developed one of these conditions may be eligible for VA benefits.

  7. The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin provides medical care and support to those affected in Vietnam, while the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation operates a program that provides prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation services to those affected.

  8. A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that exposure to Agent Orange was associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer in Vietnamese people. Another study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2018 found that exposure to Agent Orange was linked to an increased risk of heart disease in US veterans.

Despite the challenges posed by language barriers, the Support Center for Agent Orange Victims and Children in Da Nang City provides a vital source of care and support for those affected by this devastating chemical. There are people from across the world that gather in efforts to support the cause whereas through cleanup, remediation projects, healthcare, vocational training, etc. Through ongoing efforts to address the impact of Agent Orange, it is hoped that support can be provided to those in need and that the legacy of this chemical warfare agent can be fully acknowledged to deter any further acts of chemical warfare on any scale or capacity.

"Chúng tôi mong muốn các nước đứng về phía Việt Nam, đứng về phía những người mắc phải chất độc da cam/dioxin, giúp đỡ, hỗ trợ những người này đang còn sống, hỗ trợ cho các em nhỏ, trẻ em đã bị ảnh hưởng" - Võ Công Tiến, Phó Chủ tịch Liên hiệp các tổ chức Hữu nghị Việt Nam.
 "We hope that other countries will stand with Vietnam, stand with those who have been affected by Agent Orange/dioxin, help and support those who are still living, and support the children who have been affected." 
- Vo Cong Tien, Vice President of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations.

Resources:

  1. Vietnam Red Cross: https://redcross.org.vn/

  2. Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin: http://www.vava.org.vn/

  3. Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation: https://vva.org/what-we-do/agent-orange/

  4. US Department of Veterans Affairs: https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/agent-orange/

  5. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826847/

  6. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine study: https://journals.lww.com/joem/Abstract/2018/06000/Agent_Orange_Exposure_and_Hazardous.16.aspx

  7. "Agent Orange in Vietnam" by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation: https://www.vvaf.org/agent-orange-in-vietnam/

  8. "The Toxic Legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam" by The Diplomat: https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/the-toxic-legacy-of-agent-orange-in-vietnam/

  9. "Agent Orange: Vietnam's Lasting Legacy" by Al Jazeera: https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2018/5/16/agent-orange-vietnams-lasting-legacy

  10. "Cleaning up Agent Orange in Vietnam" by the World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/features/2011/agent_orange_vietnam/en/

  11. "Dioxin Remediation at Da Nang Airport" by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID): https://www.usaid.gov/vietnam/dioxin-remediation-da-nang-airport



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