Anh Nguyen Khanh lives outside of Da Nang, in southern Vietnam. He has a son who is 14 years old, he has severe spina bifida and is unable to walk.
His 17 year old daughter has Down syndrome. His wife’s mental stability has been shattered by her family’s misfortunes and now she must be restrained at all times. Anh grew up during the Vietnam War and remembers watching the American army spray Agent Orange around his home. “We thought everything was okay, because they weren’t dropping bombs… It wasn’t until the 1980s, when our generation started having children, that we learned the horrible effects of war would follow us our entire lives.” he recalls. Anh believes the chemical dioxin, found in Agent Orange, has caused his family these hardships, and he’s not alone (Cain). The use of Agent Orange has been linked to health problems and possible cancers in veterans and Vietnamese citizens.
This epidemic has served as a representation of conflict between the chemical industries and the government against citizens.Agent Orange was used by the United State’s military during the Vietnam War. Used as a tactical herbicide, millions of gallons were sprayed onto trees and vegetation (VHA).
This particular herbicide made up about 60% of those used in Vietnam (APN). It was sprayed in an attempt to destroy cover and food crop that the enemy was using. The first test spraying of Agent Orange was on August 10, 1961.
Operation Hades, later renamed Operation Ranch Hand, was the Air Force aerial spraying program. They sprayed 95% of the herbicides used in Vietnam. The U.
S. Chemical Corps made up the other 5% by spraying by hand and from trucks. They sometimes sprayed up to twenty times the recommended concentration by the manufacturing companies (APN). Agent Orange was sprayed over 24% of southern Vietnam. Thirty-four percent of the areas sprayed were sprayed multiple times. Some ares were sprayed even more, sometimes up to four times.
Villages were also sprayed, approximately 3,181. The neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia were also affected. The spraying caused massive destruction to the country’s natural resources, abolishing millions of acres of mangrove forests and highland. Half a million acres of crops were also destroyed leading to food shortages. All in all, the amount of land destroyed by this herbicide was about the size of Massachusetts. In October of 1971, the American government mandated all herbicide use be discontinued, but South Vietnamese officials did not halt the activity until 1972. Agent Orange manufacturing ended in the 70s with all remaining stocks of the herbicide destroyed by incineration (APN).
Equal proportions of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T were used to create this destructive herbicide (APN). Its most deadly chemical contaminant is dioxin (APN). A component of 2,4,5-T is 2,3,7,8-tetrachloro-dibenzo-para-dioxin, known as TCDD in the chemical world. TCDD is an organic pollutant (APN).
Out of about 419 similar compounds, it is the most toxic. Chemical companies that produced TCDD were not aware of the extent of its toxicity. Dioxin’s half-life depends on where it is found. A half-life is the time it takes for one half of the molecules in a substance to disintegrate. In the human body the half-life of TCDD is around 11-15 years. In some cases, it can be as high as 20 years. The half-life of TCDD varies in the environment, depending on factors such as soil type and depth into the earth. On surface soil and leaves, the half-life of dioxin is about 1-3 years, because sun breaks down dioxin.
If the chemical is buried in the ground or in river sediment, or ponds and lakes, the half-life could be over a century (APN). Even after learning these harmful facts about dioxin, companies still continued to produce it. Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange from 1965-1969. They produced it for the military as a wartime government contractor. A total of nine companies produced agent orange, with Monsanto being the largest producer (Monsanto). Dow Chemical was the second largest producer. A few smaller companies had some involvement in the making of Agent Orange, including Diamond, Hercules, Thompson-Hayward Chemical, and US Rubber Company. Many of the areas where these companies produced the deadly herbicide are now superfund sites.
Also, the workers who created Agent Orange were the first to see the toxic effects (AOR).Dioxin has many harmful effects on humans and animals. According to history.com, studies on animals in laboratories have showed that dioxin can be very harmful, even in small doses (History). Short term exposure can cause darkening of the skin and liver problems.
It can also cause chloracne (History). Also known as Metabolising Acquired Dioxin Induced Skin Hamartomas, or MADISH, it causes small acne-like lesions on the cheeks, behind the ears, and armpit (DermNet). Long term effects include type 2 diabetes (History), a condition that affects the way the body metabolizes sugar (Mayo). Muscular dysfunction, nerve disorders, hormone disruption, and heart disease, can also be caused by short-term exposure (History).
Not only are veterans and Vietnamese who lived during the Vietnam War era affected, but their children and grandchildren also feel the devastating effects (Hughes). In an interview with ProPublica, children of Vietnam veterans explain the different health problems they have because of their parent’s exposure to Agent Orange. Amber Clifford-Napoleone’s father served from 1966 to 1968 in a construction battalion in Vietnam. Amber said her father recalled being near Agent Orange on a daily basis. “He moved barrels of it. I mean, it was a construction unit, right? He is clearing land that the possibility of spraying that foliage was damn near 100 percent,” she recalls.
Her brother was born in 1977 with spina bifida. He had to endure 60 surgeries in his short life of 34 years (Paris). Tara Schnaible’s dad, Gerald Schnaible, was also exposed to Agent Orange. In her early 20s Tara was diagnosed with Arnold Chiari Malformation. This is a birth defect that causes brain tissue to grow down into the spinal cord (Paris). “These defects have subtly negative effects on my life, because I am young, and I expect its effect to become more pronounced as I age,” she said (Paris).
“Our family has no history of Chiari Malformation… It seems unusual that it would just appear out of nowhere and there are rumors of its relatedness to exposure of a parent-vet (Paris).” Tara also said her younger sister has started to show symptoms of the same disease (Paris). Vietnamese children are showing the same problems. A New York Times article explains the ailments of two victims. Phan Thanh Hung Duc is 20 years old. He spends his days lying on his bed, his mouth agape, his chest thrust upward and his hands and feet twisted in a crooked deformity.
He appears to be rooted or frozen in anguish. Pham Van Truc was another victim. He had frail crippled limbs and patches of scaly skin. He was in constant pain because of his ineffective medicine. In March of last year, he died after living 20 agonizing years (Hughes). These devastating stories suggests that the effects of Agent Orange can be passed down to future generations.These horrific events caused veterans to begin filing lawsuits. According to Agent Orange Record, the first lawsuit to be filed by a veteran regarding damage caused by Agent Orange was filed by Paul Reutershan.
He was only 28 at the time, and believed his abdominal cancer and chloracne were caused by his exposure to the herbicide. The Veterans Association denied his claim, and he was also unable to sue the U.S. Government. He then filed a personal injury lawsuit against Dow Chemical. His case received a great deal of attention from the media. In his appearance on the Today Show in 1978 he stated, “I died in Vietnam, but I didn’t even know it” (AOR).
Just before his death in 1978, he founded the Agent Orange Victims International. The AOVI brought Victor Yannacone, workman’s compensation attorney, on to the case. He filed a class action lawsuit against six of the chemical companies who produced Agent Orange: Dow, Monsanto, Hercules, Northwest Industries, Diamond Shamrock and North American Phillips. The case ended up at the second circuit court of appeals in New York City. On May 7, 1984, Judge Weinstein settled the case. The companies agreed to provide compensation, with the exception that they did not have to bear liability for diseases. The $180 million settlement it was the largest in history.
For veterans who were rated 100% disabled, they were to receive up to $12,800 paid out over the span of 10 years. For veterans who had died due to their Agent Orange related illness, their families received $3400 (AOR). In an attempt to prevent further lawsuits, the government provided compensation if veterans met certain requirements (VA). The U.
S. Department of Veterans Affairs will presume that veterans were exposed to Agent Orange if they were in Vietnam any time from January 9, 1962, to May 7, 1975. This includes any short visits ashore, or if they were on a ship that operated on any rivers or lakes in Vietnam. Also, if a veteran was in the Korean demilitarized zone anytime from April 1, 1968 to August 31, 1971, it will be presumed that he was exposed to the herbicide. If a veteran falls into one of those two categories, he will not have to prove that he was exposed to Agent Orange to be eligible for compensation (VA). For veterans who did not serve in Vietnam or the Korean demilitarized zone, there is still compensation available. If a veteran served on or near military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam War era, served where herbicides were tested or stored, was a crew member on a C-123 plane flown after the war, or was associated with the Department of Defense projects to test, store, or dispose of herbicides, he is eligible for compensation.
To receive such compensation the veteran must prove he was exposed to Agent Orange (VA). Rates for compensation vary depending on the veteran’s marital status and whether or not he has children (VA). On the other hand, the Vietnamese victims did not receive much compensation.
Only $20 million has been allocated to to help the Vietnamese victims. The reason why America is reluctant to fund the Vietnamese is because the victims are too far removed from the American people and too much of a reminder of an unpopular war. Even though it would only cost $35 million every year for 10 years to supply victims with prosthesis, orthopedic surgery, wheelchairs, rehabilitation and equipment, the American government is still reluctant to provide the money (Hughes). Anh Nguyen Khanh, who was mentioned earlier, only receives about $15 dollars a month for his family’s aliments (Cain).
This little compensation has led many parents to abandon their children born with disabilities (Hughes). It is important that the Vietnamese people affected receive the necessary amount of compensation for them to live fulfilling lives. The lives of Ahn and many others have been shattered by the deadly effects of Agent Orange. Both veterans and Vietnamese have tried to gain compensation for the illnesses brought to them and their families.
American veterans have gained some compensation, but more still needs to be done for the Vietnamese affected by the horrors of Agent Orange.