Vietnam and New Jersey, despite the vast distance between them, share a deadly link. Both places, lushly beautiful this time of year, were poisoned by United States government actions regarding one of the most toxic chemicals, dioxin.
In Vietnam, dioxin was widely spread as a contaminant in forest-killing Agent Orange herbicides that the US government failed to warn Vietnamese and American soldiers could be deadly to their health. In New Jersey, where Agent Orange was manufactured at a Newark chemical plant and the herbicides were sprayed along power lines and elsewhere for years, the feds failed to warn Americans at home that their health could be endangered by exposure to a widespread substance in our daily environment.
A new documentary, Mann v. Ford, that opened on HBO television channels this week highlights the painful reality for a Garden State community that was poisoned despite government assurances that safety measures were in place to protect people's health from industrial pollution. In a stunningly symbolic scene, two leaders of the contaminated neighborhood walk along a path beside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington on their way to the Capitol Building, their reflected figures weaving in and out among the long columns of names of soldiers who died in the war.
The film focuses on a lawsuit by residents of Ringwood, NJ who sued Ford Motor Company over cancer and other illnesses that beset many of their families after lead-based paint sludge and other industrial waste from a car-assembly plant was dumped near their homes. The dumping occurred in 1967-71, during the height of the war in Vietnam. Like soldiers in Vietnam, residents of the former iron mining community where the dumping occurred were long in the dark as to the hidden dangers of dioxin and other toxic substances.
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