By MARJORIE COHN, Counterpunch, June 15, 2009
From 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed Vietnam with Agent Orange, which contained large quantities of Dioxin, in order to defoliate the trees for military objectives. Dioxin is one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man. It has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen (causes cancer) and by the American Academy of Medicine as a teratogen (causes birth defects).
Between 2.5 and 4.8 million people were exposed to Agent Orange. 1.4 billion hectares of land and forest – approximately 12 percent of the land area of Vietnam – were sprayed.
The Vietnamese who were exposed to the chemical have suffered from cancer, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to reproductive capacity, and skin and nervous disorders. Children and grandchildren of those exposed have severe physical deformities, mental and physical disabilities, diseases, and shortened life spans. The forests and jungles in large parts of southern Vietnam have been devastated and denuded. They may never grow back and if they do, it will take 50 to 200 years to regenerate. Animals that inhabited the forests and jungles have become extinct, disrupting the communities that depended on them. The rivers and underground water in some areas have also been contaminated. Erosion and desertification will change the environment, contributing to the warming of the planet and dislocation of crop and animal life.
The use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War means that for many the war never ended. They’re still suffering the effects of chemical warfare. In 2004, ABC Australia produced this documentary on the toxic legacy of Agent Orange and attempts to hold U.S. corporate war criminals accountable in American courts. In March 2009, after years of legal battles, the US Supreme Court denied the Vietnamese plaintiffs justice by refusing to hear appeals against lower court decisions that ruled against the plaintiffs.