Behind Vietnam's Deadly Agent Orange
by Valeria Moreno Lopez, age 16
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military proposed the usage of herbicides in wartime to sabotage the living conditions of the enemy. Operation Ranch Hand was a program that created various herbicide compounds to destroy crops and plants in urban and agricultural areas that could benefit Vietnam’s forces.
Several companies, including Monsanto and Dow Chemical, were involved in the production of the herbicide compounds. Multiple mixes were made, such as Agent White, Purple, Orange, Pink, Blue, and Green. Though all of them were deployed, Agent Orange turned out to be the most dangerous. It is a combination of toxic chemicals and herbicide, which contains small amounts of TCDD, a type of dioxin. Even the smallest amounts could be harmful to those exposed, as it is a carcinogen— a cancer factor. Throughout 1962 to 1971, 13 million gallons of Agent Orange were aerially sprayed in regions of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
Dioxins are a toxic chemical that can affect people’s health in unfortunate ways, if exposed long enough. Apart from being carcinogens, they are also associated with nerve and muscle disorders, heart diseases, and liver problems. Dioxins can last many years in the environment, seeping into water and food chains. They can enter animal systems and be present in the food most commonly consumed like meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products.
Exposure to Agent Orange, both directly and indirectly, is said to be the cause of many deleterious effects. Both Vietnamese and U.S. soldiers saw immediate effects from the herbicide. U.S. soldiers were in contact with the toxic herbicides at military bases long enough to develop several serious health issues. In Vietnam, there was an unusual high rise of cancers, miscarriages, skin diseases, birth defects and malformations at that time. The country reports that at least two million people have been affected, whether they suffered from illnesses, injuries, and/or death. As of today, Agent Orange is still influencing the country’s health.
In 1979, U.S. veterans sued seven companies that helped in the production of Agent Orange. The lawsuit ended five years later, resulting in nearly 250,000 veterans and their families being recompensed with a $180 million fund. However, Vietnamese victims have not received reparations for their suffering. In 2004, another lawsuit was brought to court on their behalf. Despite their efforts, companies involved in the production argued that Agent Orange was unable to affect future generations, and the case was dropped.
The extreme and long-lasting impacts of Operation Ranch Hand have been visible for more than four decades. In 2012 to 2016, Vietnam and the United States initiated a clean-up plan to dispose of soil traced with high levels of dioxin. This partnership was significant since it was the first time the U.S. government has been involved in recent matters in Vietnam.
[Sources: Britannica; Reuters; History]