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Daily News Blog

12
Mar

Deadly Dioxin, An Agent Orange By-Product, Continues to Contaminate Vietnam

(Beyond Pesticides, March 12, 2019) Fifty years after the end of the Vietnam War, the Agent Orange byproduct dioxin continues to contaminate Vietnam’s soils and wildlife, and subsequently affect human health. In their review, scientists at Iowa State and the University of Illinois focus on the locations where hot spots and contaminated sediments have persisted after 130,000 fifty-five gallons drums of toxic herbicides were sprayed over Vietnam’s farm fields and jungle canopies during the war.

“Existing Agent Orange and dioxin research is primarily medical in nature, focusing on the details of human exposure primarily through skin contact and long-term health effects on U.S. soldiers,” says Ken Olson, PhD, co-author on the article. “In this paper, we examine the short and long-term environmental effects on the Vietnamese natural resource base and how persistence of dioxin continues to affect soils, water, sediment, fish, aquatic species, the food supply, and Vietnamese health.”

While public attention has generally focused on the “rainbow herbicides,” such as Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam war, it is the dioxin TCDD (2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzodioxin), a byproduct of Agent Orange’s manufacturing process, that has caused the most lasting damage within the country. While the breakdown period for Agent Orange herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5,-T can be measured in months, TCDD can persist for decades and likely even centuries in water sediments and jungle soils. And the chemical, one of the most toxic man-made substances on earth, can cause significant health impacts and birth defects at levels as low as parts per trillion.

Herbicide applications occurred throughout Vietnam’s jungle canopy, as part of U.S. efforts to eliminate cover for Viet Cong soldiers. But according to researchers, over 40% of herbicides used during the war were sprayed on farm fields in attempts to destroy the food of opposing troops. These farms were owned primarily by civilians, resulting in famine, malnourishment and other lasting damage to agricultural regions of the country.

“The pathway begins with the U.S. military spraying in the 1960s, absorption by tree and shrub leaves, leaf drop to the soil surface (along with some direct contact of the spray with the soil), then attachment of the dioxin TCDD to soil organic matter and clay particles of the soil,” author Wright Morton, PhD, indicates.

Rains and other factors then move this contaminated soil off-site, into marshes, rivers, lakes, streams, and other wetland areas. TCDD dioxin is then taken up by aquatic benthic organisms like shrimp and fish. Accumulating in fatty tissue, it moves up the food chain and eventually becomes a hazard for public health. Although there are widespread fishing bans in Vietnam, fish represent a significant source of food and protein for many in the country, and despite the risks, the bans are difficult to enforce.

Researchers also identified specific hot spots where TCDD dioxin contamination presents particularly pronounced risks. “The worst dioxin-contaminated site in Vietnam is Bien Hoa airbase, which is 30 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City,” Dr.Olson says. “After President Nixon ordered the U.S. military to stop spraying Agent Orange in 1970, this is the site where all the Agent Orange barrels remaining in Vietnam were collected. The barrels were processed and shipped to Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean, where they were incinerated at sea in 1977.”

Researchers indicate that incineration remains the only truly effective measure to eliminate dioxin contamination from soils. The process is costly, requiring significant resources, labor, and construction equipment, but is the prevailing method used in environmental clean-up. Many superfund sites in the U.S. are addressed through this method, for example. According to the study, there are ten U.S. air force bases that are in need of this level of remediation.

As this study shows, in many ways the Vietnam War is still being fought. Not only are the Vietnamese people still being impacted by horrific birth defects and other health effects caused by dioxin exposure, U.S. service members that applied Agent Orange or even simply used aircraft that once stored drums of the chemicals are still fighting for compensation.

The Vietnamese government has recently gone after Monsanto (now Bayer’s Monsanto), demanding that the company pay damages to victims of TCDD dioxin contamination. As the study shows, there are significant costs that continue to be borne by the people that both Bayer’s Monsanto and the U.S. government have a responsibility to address.

For more information about the legacy of Agent Orange, see previous Daily News stories on the issue, or view Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Induced Diseases Database. Help veterans in your community by supporting veteran owned businesses and nonprofit organizations. Veterans looking to go into the organic industry after their service can explore Rodale Institute’s Veteran farmer training program.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: University of Illinois Press Release, Scientific Research (peer-reviewed journal)

 

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One Response to “Deadly Dioxin, An Agent Orange By-Product, Continues to Contaminate Vietnam”

  1. 1
    Peedee Wyre Says:

    I am a Vietnam Veteran, 8 years into chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, as are so many of my fellow Veterans and Vietnamese of several generations as well, many without adequate care/treatment. Most civilians are unaware of dioxin from bleach, much less the quantities that are dumped in waterways by industry in their pursuit of supplying us with lily-white everything. I am reminded of a practice which I hope has self-extinguished: using lead to bleach flour {lead solder in dinnerware and gasoline is a whole other topic.] and in various cosmetics. Thank you for this article. People should never forget, but first they have to know.

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