Promoting Hope and Dignity: A Long-Term Humanitarian Response to Agent Orange and Dioxin in Vietnam

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Agent Orange, a chemical used by the U.S. military during the war, continues to have harmful impacts in Vietnam today. The Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese have been affected by Agent Orange, including at least 150,000 children born with serious birth defects.

This is a humanitarian concern. We can promote hope and dignity and help prevent the problem from continuing to affect future generations by using best practices to clean up the remaining toxic “hot spots,” and by providing education, medical care and rehabilitation to those affected.

Millions of Americans and Vietnamese are still affected, directly and indirectly, by the wartime U.S. spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides over South Vietnam.

As U.S. Vietnam-era veterans know, some of the herbicides contained dioxin, a highly toxic and persistent organic pollutant linked to cancers, diabetes, birth defects and other disabilities.
The U.S. and Vietnamese governments have both taken steps to care for veterans affected by dioxin exposure during the war. But much remains to be done for others whose needs have not been met.

Agent Orange and dioxin continues to contaminate the environment in Vietnam and freshly affect people’s health.

Agent Orange was sprayed at up to 50 times the concentration the manufacturers recommended for killing plants. It defoliated millions of acres of forests and farmland. Much of that land remains degraded and unproductive to this day.
The chemical dioxin, contained in Agent Orange, remains toxic for decades and is still found in very high concentrations in “hot spots” in Vietnam.
At least two dozen “hot spots” of toxic dioxin residues exist where Agent Orange and other chemicals were stored and handled. As long as these “hot spots” are not cleaned up, dioxin can continue to make its way into the food chain and affect adults and children.

A Declaration and Plan of Action has been developed and was released in June 2010.

The U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin, established in 2007 with help from the Ford Foundation, has recommended a ten-year, $300 million remediation plan. It has two parts:

Clean dioxin-contaminated soils and restore damaged ecosystems.
Expand services to people with disabilities and to their families.

This plan addresses the legacy of Agent Orange and dioxin.

In 2010, Vietnam marked four important events: the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Hanoi; the 35th anniversary of the end of the war; the 15th anniversary of renewed U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations; and Vietnam’s chairing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). And 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the first use of herbicides by the U.S. in Vietnam.

The United States should join the Vietnamese in funding this comprehensive and humanitarian effort to clean up toxic areas and address the legacy of Agent Orange/dioxin. This would be a fitting way for the United States to mark these important historic milestones.

August 2011