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Orange Shadow Over Olympics

The Olympics stadium in London.

HANOI, Vietnam, Jul 27 2012 (IPS) - Agent Orange (AO), often called the ‘last legacy’ of the United States war in Vietnam (1955-1975), has popped up again thanks to its manufacturer Dow Chemical’s controversial sponsorship of the Olympic Games.

Vietnam is not boycotting the games but has made an official protest to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), with sports minister Hoang Anh Tuan conveying “profound concern” over Dow’s multi-million dollar sponsorship. Agent Orange is the code name for herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare programme in Vietnam.

After relations between the U.S. and Vietnam were normalised in 1995, the former earmarked funds for cleanup operations, but these were largely confined to ‘hotspots’ such as former airbases where AO was stored rather than human populations that suffered the drops over a 12-year period.

Growing cooperation between the former enemies can be seen in the three visits by U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton over the last two years. Defence secretary Leon Panetta also visited Vietnam in June.

But, the growing ties have not changed significantly the U.S. attitude in the matter of compensation for human damage caused by AO.

Nguyen Van Rinh, a retired general and head of the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange, told IPS in an interview:  “Yes, I believe that many Vietnamese are angry with the decision of the Olympics 2012 organisers. And this is completely justified.”

AO contains dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known, and scientists estimate that as little as a few parts per billion can be damaging.

Estimates of people affected by AO range from 2.1 million to over four million, and the Vietnamese government blames it for cancers and birth defects in some 500,000 second and third generation children.

The Vietnam Red Cross has reported that as many as three million Vietnamese have been affected by AO, including at least 150,000 children born with birth defects.

U.S. scientists have however been sceptical of Vietnamese studies and estimates of human damage caused by AO, citing poor scientific research and little peer reviewing of research work.

On the other hand, compensation for suspected AO damage is paid to female U.S. war veterans, and support given to their children. Those born with spina bifida or birth defects from unknown causes, to parents who served in areas where AO was sprayed or stored, are also given support.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences concluded in its report, ‘Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 1996 Summary and Research Highlights,’ that “there is limited or suggestive evidence of an association between exposure to herbicides used in Vietnam and spina bifida in children of Vietnam veterans.”

For some time now, environmentalists have also been concerned that Monsanto, which supplies much of the world’s seeds, has been quietly making inroads into Vietnam. They fear a second “haunting legacy” of damage from a conglomerate that was involved in the manufacture of AO.

According to available studies the AO campaign destroyed 10 million hectares of agricultural land and some 20,000 sq km of upland and mangrove forests.

Rinh has already questioned agriculture minister Cao Duc Phat about Monsanto’s work in Vietnam during a National Assembly session.

Rinh told local media later that his questions were only vaguely answered by the minister, and that neither the questions nor the answers were recorded in the minutes of the interaction with the minister.

Chuck Searcy, a veteran of the war who returned to Vietnam over a decade ago to work with unexploded ordnance and mine removal projects, says that “it was the U.S. that started talking about lawsuits and legal issues” over AO.

That the U.S. government would agree – albeit after agitation – that herbicides had caused significant damage to its own service personnel and pay out compensation to them has long angered many in Vietnam.

Says Searcy: “It (GM crops) has started to raise serious suspicions on the part of many Vietnamese because AO was produced by the same companies that claimed that the herbicide was safe.”

A group of over 100 Vietnamese plaintiffs had taken their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, suing both Dow and Monsanto for AO damage. The case, which began in 2004, was thrown out in early March 2009 with the court ruling that there was no established link between dioxin use and birth defects in Vietnam.

Also, under U.S. law, Dow and Monsanto cannot be held responsible since they were acting under government orders.

Reacting to Vietnam’s letter of protest to the IOC, Dow told VietWeek (a weekly English language news magazine published by Thanh Nien News) that the War Production Act absolves the company given that it was compelled by the U.S. government to produce the defoliant.

“I think cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnam in finding and implementing solutions to the AO issue seems to be a little better now,” Rinh told IPS. However, he said, it was still “mostly words” and that “these behaviours constitute only a small effort and are very far from what they should be doing.”

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  • Len Aldis

    Also, under U.S. law, Dow and Monsanto cannot be held responsible since they were acting under government orders.
    Reacting to Vietnam’s letter of protest to the IOC, Dow told VietWeek (a weekly English language news magazine published by Thanh Nien News) that the War Production Act absolves the company given that it was compelled by the U.S. government to produce the defoliant.

    The above excuse is used by the companies to avoid responsibilities and to avoid paying compensation to the Vietnamese, the same excuse used by the Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg, “We were only obeying orders.”  This excuse was rejected by the Judges, and rightly so. 

    As Hitler and his government was responsible, so were those who carried out their orders by making Agent Orange, step forward Monsanto, Dow Chemical etc etc etc..

  • Terence Craddock

    I believe agent orange for use in Vietnam was also made in Hornby Christchurch New Zealand. “The use of Agent Orange has been controversial in New Zealand, because
    of the exposure of New Zealand troops in Vietnam and because of the
    production of Agent Orange for Vietnam and other users at an Ivon
    Watkins-Dow chemical plant in Paritutu, New Plymouth. There have been continuing claims, as yet unproven, that the suburb of Paritutu has also been polluted” is an admitted site of production.

  • Terence Craddock

    Part of the NZ 2005 disclosure. “AUCKLAND – New
    Zealand supplied Agent Orange chemicals to the United States military
    during the Vietnam war, a government minister has revealed.
    The disclosure led
    to immediate claims that New Zealand was in breach of the Geneva
    convention and could face a flood of lawsuits from veterans and

    Transport Minister Harry Duynhoven said the highly toxic chemical
    was sent to a United States base in the Philippines during the 1960s.

    “The information that has been given to me is that products used
    to make Agent Orange were shipped from New Plymouth to Subic Bay in the
    Philippines,” he told the Sunday News newspaper.

    After nearly three decades of official denials, a high-level
    parliamentary committee formally acknowledged late last year that New
    Zealand soldiers in the Vietnam War were significantly exposed to Agent
    Orange, but no mention was ever made that the country was a supplier.”

  • Terence Craddock

    Quoting most Agent Orange production was in Canada then shipped to the US.
    “I realize that many companies under
    license produced Agent Orange, White and the rest of the Rainbow
    chemicals during the Vietnam War but there is little doubt that Dow and
    Monsanto were the two largest producers of defoliants for use in
    Vietnam. In Canada they were also the principal producers of the
    defoliation chemicals used in CFB Gagetown New Brunswick, where although
    the drums supplied were with their chemical names or symbols instead of
    the colored strips, they were the identical chemicals which these two
    companies were shipping to the US for use in Vietnam.”

  • Terence Craddock

    Agent Orange Made in Australia

    “Between 1961 and 1971 the US and its allies sprayed and dumped around
    80 million litres of Agent Orange and related chemicals on Vietnam.
    Demand for this poison was high, and Australian chemical manufacturers
    helped meet the demand and got their share of the profits.

    Union Carbide (now owned by Dow Chemical) produced Agent Orange at
    Homebush in Sydney, leaving a terrible legacy. The factory is gone now,
    but in June 1997 Greenpeace investigations revealed an orphaned
    stockpile of thirty-six 200-litre drums and fifteen 50-litre drums of
    waste highly contaminated with dioxin next to Homebush Bay and the site
    of the 2000 Olympic Games. Greenpeace sampling of fish from Homebush Bay
    found high levels of dioxin in the food chain. Two sea mullet were
    found to have levels of the most toxic form of dioxin, 2378 TCDD, 10-15
    times higher than US and Canadian standards for concentrations in edible

    The Sydney Morning Herald reported on October 30, 2010, that
    carcinogenic chemicals from the former Union Carbide factory are
    spreading throughout Sydney Harbour. According to government
    authorities, the contamination covers an area too large to be
    remediated, . . . .

    Agent Orange was also produced in the outer Perth suburb of  Kwinana
    by  Chemical Industries Kwinana. The National Toxics Network noted in
    2009 that quality control at the Perth factory was often poor, and “bad
    batches” were disposed of in pits on site and from time to time were
    burned. The open burning of these chemicals would have added to dioxin
    contamination. State government agencies have identified a plume of
    dioxin contamination beneath the site that has migrated to other nearby
    industrial sites.

    The Nine MSN website reported on December 12, 2008, that
    Queensland’s Environmental Protection Agency had revealed the presence
    of dioxin in soil at an industrial site at Pinkenba, on the banks of a
    drain leading into the Brisbane River. Again the site was once a
    chemical factory that made Agent Orange in the 1960s and ‘70s. Dow
    Chemical, a global producer of Agent Orange, is currently cleaning up
    dioxin contamination on some of its sites in Victoria.
    Sprayed by Australians

    The Australian government and the military leadership during the war
    were directly involved in the poisoning of Vietnam’s people and
    environment. They ordered the widespread spraying of Agent Orange by
    Australian troops in Phuoc Tuy province, particularly around the
    Australian base at Nui Dat.

    Royal Australian Air Force helicopters from No. 9 Squadron had spray
    booms attached for aerial spraying. Australian army trucks with spray
    rigs carried 300 gallon (about 1135 litres) tanks of Agent Orange.
    Soldiers were also assigned to spray by hand. Immediately the
    hand-spraying teams manifested medical problems including the breakdown
    of mucus membranes, ulceration of lips, profuse nosebleeding and severe
    conjunctivitis. So what did the army do?  Instead of stopping the
    spraying, it rotated the job through different units at the base.”

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