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About the Laos Agent Orange Survey

The Laos Agent Orange Survey (LAOS) began surveying villages, in 2014, in the heavily sprayed regions of Savannakhet and Salavan provinces. We were the first to conduct a substantive survey and collection of statistical data on the potential impacts of Agent Orange in southeastern Laos.

The purpose of the survey is to determine the consequences of wartime use of herbicides in Laos—in particular, to identify the extent of the contamination of Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides and rates of people suffering from Agent Orange-associated congenital birth defects, disabilities, cancers, and other illnesses.

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THE SECRET WAR IN LAOS AND THE CIA

U.S. Air Force official spray records, disclosed in 1999, show that at least fifteen districts in the provinces of Khammouane, Savannakhet, Salavan, Xekong, and Attapeu were heavily and repeatedly sprayed with tactical herbicides. This area was the location of the former Ho Chi Minh Trail and is among the most impoverished in Laos. The Lao census of 2005 identified unusually high incidents of disabilities in these districts.

We still do not know how much aerial spraying or military base clearing was done, at the direction of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). One Air America veteran reported that he fitted a Pilatus Porter (number XW – PCB), a short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft, with spray tanks and that that plane was used for two months in 1968 for herbicide spraying near Long Tieng and the area south of Na Khang in Xayaboury Province.

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In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs Administration website notes that planes were loaded in Udorn, Thailand to spray Agent Orange in Northern Laos but the records of where this spraying took place have not yet been identified. Anecdotes of villagers near former CIA landing zones and trail watching sites suggest that hand spraying of herbicides also occurred in Laos. 

The survey estimates 500,000 Lao citizens in about 178 villages were potentially exposed to wartime herbicide sprayings. These affected villages—in the districts of Xepone, Nong, Vilabouly, Phin, Samoi, Taoey, Kalum, Dak Cheung, Lamam, Xanxay, Phouvong Xaysettha, and Xanamxay—are all located in Laos’s southeast region bordering Vietnam where the Ho Chi Minh Trail was located. Ethnic minorities of the Mon-Khmer linguistic group, previously labeled Lao Teung (Midland Lao) of the Annamese Cordillera, constitute the largest population living on this remote and forested plateau.

War Legacies Project has facilitated the provision of medical care and rehabilitation services to people that have since been identified by LAOS. The efforts have focused specifically on individuals with certain types of congenital problems that meet two criteria:

  • The person has had one or more medical conditions from birth that are either on the U.S. Veterans Affairs list of birth defects found among the children of female veterans who served in Vietnam or on the list of birth defects/disabilities that the Vietnamese government recognizes as associated with exposure to Agent Orange. These include but are not limited to: spina bifida, deformed extremities (e.g., legs, arms, feet, hands, and other orthopedic conditions), cleft palate, cleft lip, neurological disorders, hydrocephaly, microcephaly, chloracne, reproductive issues, and learning disabilities.

  • The person’s parents and grandparents lived in the Agent Orange sprayed areas along the former Ho Chi Minh Trail during the U.S. Secret War in Laos.

 

As of May 2019, War Legacies Project has surveyed 126 villages in Xepone, Nong, and Vilabouly Districts of Savannakhet and in Taoey and Samoi districts in Salavan Province. Over 500 children and adults who meet the two above-mentioned conditions have been identified in the survey. In each surveyed village, there was an average of four to five persons in each village with congenital birth defects that may be associated with Agent Orange. Over 120 people identified have since received medical services, physical therapy or assistive devices, or have attended vocational training. War Legacies Project will continue its services and assistance programs. Funding permitted, War Legacies Project will extend the scope of its surveying efforts to include affected villages in Xekong and Attepeu provinces.

War Legacies Project has also been gathering oral histories from residents of affected villages who faced the trauma of herbicide spraying, the intergenerational impacts of Agent Orange-Dioxin exposure, and unexploded ordnance left behind after the U.S. war in Vietnam.

The investigation into the impacts of herbicide spraying on land and people in Laos is long overdue.

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