Thursday, September 17, 2009

Agent Orange: The Damage Lives On In Vietnam


Chuck Palazzo
The damages continue, relief is possibly in sight, but there is so much more to do and so little time
The lasting legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam
A legacy of Agent Orange and U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

(DA NANG Vietnam) - It’s absolutely no surprise that even to this day, environmental tests confirm extremely high levels of dioxin, the toxic ingredient that made Agent Orange what it was – an insidious poison that was sprayed for years in Vietnam as well as other countries for a variety of reasons– but especially in Vietnam.

The base referred to in this article is Da Nang. That’s where so many of us flew in and out of, were stationed in or around, and where this poison was mixed, stored and loaded onto aircraft for eventual spraying in Vietnam.

The earth was sprayed and contaminated, trees and plants defoliated, wildlife sprayed and killed, and worse, Americans as well as Vietnamese have suffered premature deaths, diseases they would not have been stricken with if not exposed to Agent Orange.

They as well as their offspring continue to suffer as this toxic cocktail continues its journey from generation to generation. Dioxin levels at this location, to this day, continue to exceed ALL international standards and guidelines for toxic chemicals.

"The work we have done really demonstrates that this is a manageable problem," said Thomas Boivin, president of Hatfield. "We now know where the contamination is coming from; we just need the international financial support to get on with the cleanup."

We have known for years. It’s been well documented. In fact, the US Government, while they still contend they did no wrong in spraying Agent Orange on the Vietnamese as well as Americans and our allies, actually outlawed the use of Dioxin in the US for that very same reason.

After years of disagreement on how to handle the ongoing problem, the US and Vietnam finally agreed to work together and come up with a solution in 2006. Yep, that’s not a typo folks – 2006. 31 years after the fall of Saigon.

How toxic is toxic?

Between 1961 and 1971, the U.S. military released more than 19 million gallons of herbicides in South Vietnam to destroy enemy crops and deny a very formidable foe cover by defoliating dense mangrove forests and triple canopy jungles.

What some people knew at the time and people at the very top of the US Government and War Machine was that some of the herbicides contained a highly toxic form of dioxin, known as TCDD. The toxin was a byproduct created while manufacturing mixtures such as Agent Orange, the most widely used of a handful of herbicides contaminated with TCDD. Unintended? Perhaps. But known to be toxic and by more than just a few folks? Absolutely!

Environmental scientists from a Canadian firm (Hatfield) last week presented the findings from the study, which documents that high levels of TCDD from the herbicides still contaminate soil inside a former U.S. airbase in Da Nang as well as sediment from a lake that abuts it. And this is just Da Nang – one of 3 hotspots identified within South Vietnam that was sprayed and that is still contaminated. Approximately 10 percent of South Vietnam was sprayed during those years.

The study uses TCDD's chemical fingerprint to trace its movement through the food chain, from the soil and lake sediment to the fat of fish and ducks to the blood and breast milk of humans.

Where are we today?

Plain and simple, we are worse off than we were when we started a series of lawsuits, blogs, demonstrations and everything else we possibly could do to seek justice from the US Government.

The VAVAO brought suit, after numerous other failed attempts to make things right against the US Federal Government. The arrogance of successive administrations in Washington was nail after nail in the coffins of those who suffered and eventually died.

The then President of the Veterans For Peace (VFP) David Cline, was quoted by stating:

“While the chemical companies had responsibility and should be held liable, the primary responsibility lies with the U.S. government which ordered the continued use of these poisons” after they were known to be toxic. “Our demand has always been testing, treatment and compensation for Agent Orange victims” by the U.S. government.

Progress was made with passage of the Agent Orange Act in 1991 admitting that these chemicals cause a long list of diseases, he continued. Unfortunately, David succumbed to his many ailments, primarily directly linked to Agent Orange before any major laws were enacted, and funds granted to help us all – which we still await. David was a dedicated activist as well as a decorated combat hero. His mission, and his legacy, were and are to make things right and make the US accountable for these and so many other wrongs.

Judge Jack

That brings us to recent days. On March 10, 2005 Judge Jack Weinstein of Brooklyn Federal Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange against producers of chemicals defoliants/herbicides, denying millions to those poisoned by the rainbow defoliants.

Good ole boy, Judge Jack Weinstein threw out the lawsuit that was initiated by the VAVOA, rejecting their argument that Agent Orange was a weapon subject to the Geneva Convention and their use against civilians was a war crime. Weinstein held that Agent Orange did not target people in Vietnam but was instead a “defoliant” aimed at Vietnam’s jungle.

Judge Jack, please allow us to spray you from head to toe with Dioxin – an eye for an eye? Certainly not. But The Honorable Judge needs to feel it and needs to pass it on to his offspring – then perhaps his head will come out of the sand. And guess who appointed Judge Weinstein?

Our old friend and former US President, Lyndon Johnson. Starting to see a pattern evolve here brothers and sisters? Gulf of Tonkin lie and farce – thank the former President for that lie that caused the US to become more deeply involved in the Vietnam War.

An additional case against the manufacturers filed by US veterans in the mid-1990s was dismissed at the same time. Both dismissals were upheld by an appeals court in 2008 and an appeal of the Vietnamese case to the US Supreme Court was dismissed in March 2009.

The Recent International Tribunal

Most recently, an International Tribunal convened in Paris. Rena Kopy, our sister member of the VVAW was selected to represent our organization as well as all of those affected by Agent Orange – US Veterans, allied Veterans as well as the Vietnamese and of course their offspring. The Tribunal, amongst other things, found in our favor:

The US government is guilty of crimes against humanity for using Agent Orange in Vietnam according to a ruling by the International People’s Tribunal of Conscience announced in Paris on May 18. The verdict, reached after a two-day trial held May 15 - 16, found the US guilty of violating International Law by using Agent Orange to conduct illegal chemical warfare. Millions of gallons of the chemical were sprayed over Vietnam despite knowledge that it contained dioxin, one of the deadliest substances known to science. Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Uniroyal Chemical and 29 other chemical manufacturers were found guilty of collusion with this criminal act.

After hearing testimony from 27 victims and expert witnesses, the tribunal ruled that Vietnamese Agent Orange victims and their families are entitled to full compensation from the US government and the companies that manufactured and supplied the chemical. The judgment also requires the defendants to restore the environment to pre-war conditions and remove all traces of dioxin from Vietnam. Additionally, it concluded that the Vietnamese State should be compensated for the costs of caring for victims and restoring the environment.

To implement the verdict, the tribunal advised formation of an Agent Orange Commission to determine the amount of compensation for individual victims as well as their families and communities; to assess the amount needed to provide victims with health care, counseling, and other social services; and to project the cost of studying contaminated areas and conducting clean up operations. The amounts would be paid into a trust fund by the US government and the chemical companies. The defendants were not present at the trial, having ignored the summons and complaint sent to them by the Peoples’ Tribunal.

The People’s Tribunal was organized to keep the issue of justice for Agent Orange victims alive in the court of international public opinion despite legal roadblocks erected by US courts. The tribunal was formed under auspices of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, a non-governmental organization of progressive lawyers and judges founded in 1946. The IADL has consultative status with UNESCO and ECOSOC.

Next Steps

Indeed a good question and sadly, not an easy one to answer. We must continue our fight, brothers and sisters, and never give up. Write and call your congressional representatives, the press, the President himself. I leave you with this tidbit of information. The US has allocated $3million in funds earmarked for the cleanup of Da Nang and the surrounding area of the former airbase. Earlier this year, President Obama signed a bill allotting $6million in assistance for dioxin cleanup efforts – it’s not clear to me, however, if the $6million includes the original $3million or is an additional $3 million to the already allocated $3million. In either case, it’s a pittance of what is really required. Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but Vietnam has not seen a penny of this funding to date. I hope I am wrong, but I can’t find any evidence indicating otherwise. As my good friend and fellow activist who lives here in Vietnam as well, points out to me, the boondoggle that Bush Jr. orchestrated as a “good will” gesture towards the citizens of Vietnam cost the United States a $3million hotel and related expense bill. Thank you Chuck S. for continuing to remind us of that fact – as sad as it is, it's fact.

The US remains an imperialistic and arrogant country and refuses to admit its wrongs and remain true to its commitments – to its own veterans, our allies, and the people and environment that we so wrongly maimed, killed and destroyed.

Special thanks to The Associated Press: Survey: Dioxin levels high in Vietnam near US base by Ben Stocking for information used in this report.


Chuck Palazzo is a Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran, the Interim Editor for Agent Orange, and a longtime member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Chuck has spent years since the war studying the impacts and effects of Agent Orange, a defoliant chemical sprayed by the U.S. government on the jungles of Vietnam. He says Dioxins have been re-discovered to cause all sorts of damage to humans. These include Heart Disease, Parkinsonism, Diabetes etcetera. Dioxins are already known to produce serious birth defects and a variety of cancers. The chemical is still sold in Third World Countries and causing the same problems.

We at welcome Chuck aboard and look forward to sharing more of his stories with our readers in the future.


  1. Many thanks for this. What you are doing is commendable. See

    Ken Herrmann, Jr

  2. Thanks you Ken. I will certainly review the site you mentioned.

    We must not let down, nor give up, this fight - as you and I both know.

    Semper peace!

  3. Great article!
    I served with the Marines in and around Danang as an engineer and know we used Agent Orange on road projects around bridges and such.

    I have a son with hearing loss and was wondering if anyone out there has heard of other guys who have children with hearing loss or impairment?

    I can't seem to find any studies showing the link between AO and hearing problems. I know AO causes birth defects and nerve damage so it makes sense to me that there is a link but I cannot find any scientific evidence.

    Any help in regard to this issue will help alot of children and grandchildren as it seems that AO damage may be intergenerational.

    Ted Pietz