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Vietnam demands action on Agent Orange

Vietnamese sisters
Agent Orange is still being blamed for birth defects more than 30 years since its use  

Staff and wires

HANOI, Vietnam -- Accusing the United States of waging a chemical war against it, Vietnam has said the two former foes need to come up with a plan to repair damage caused by the toxic defoliant Agent Orange.

Speaking at the end of the first-ever scientific meet on the effects of defoliants sprayed by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, Vietnamese Vice Minister of Science, Technology and Environment Pham Khoi Nguyen said the two nations needed to talk about more than just research priorities.

The three-day conference in Hanoi brought together hundreds of U.S. and Vietnamese government scientists along with international experts, and the two governments are now due to hold bilateral talks, where the highly sensitive issue is likely to top the agenda.

U.S. forces dumped millions of gallons of Agent Orange on Vietnam during the war that ended in 1975 to defoliate jungle and unmask the hiding places of communist troops infiltrating from the North.

Spraying was halted in 1971 after it was discovered it contained the most dangerous form of dioxin, TCDD, and caused cancer in tests on rats.

Vietnam estimates more than a million of its people were exposed to the spraying. U.S. scientists at the conference have questioned Hanoi's claims and said such linkages would take many more years to prove.

But American veterans and many Vietnamese blame a variety of illnesses on exposure to the defoliant, including miscarriages, birth defects, cancers and nervous disorders.

Although Vietnam has not directly asked for financial compensation, it has repeatedly said that the United States has a moral and ethical responsibility to deal with the "consequences of the war."

The U.S. ambassador to Vietnam has labeled the issue "the one significant ghost" remaining from the Vietnam War.

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Researchers reported at the conference that a new study shows extremely high levels of dioxin in the blood of residents of Bien Hoa, a highly sprayed area near a former U.S. air base, more than 30 years after spraying ended.

Some of the highest levels -- reaching 206 times greater than average -- were found in people born well after spraying stopped, indicating exposure to persistent dioxin residues in soil and water, the researchers said.

Dioxin, one of the most poisonous chemicals created by man, is also one of the most persistent pollutants.

Vietnam's cash-strapped government has not been able to clean up the dioxin pollution in Bien Hoa or resettle the area's 20,000 residents.

At the conference Vice Minister Nguyen talked of the need to clear the area of toxins.

"The objective is to bring dioxin contamination across Vietnam down to internationally acceptable levels and do all that can be done to mitigate the health effects," Nguyen said.

"The United States waged chemical warfare against Vietnam 30 years ago. Cooperation with the U.S. is very necessary."

Anne Sassaman of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences told the conference the talks over the next two days would deal with setting research priorities.

Collaboration started between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Vietnam would likely result in scientists in Vietnam being able to evaluate and define the extent of the residual hazard posed by Agent Orange and dioxin, she added.

Vietnam Veterans of America, which has lobbied for years to get compensation for its members, said it was anxious to see research move ahead in Vietnam.


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