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“As more and more Agent Orange was dropped, our patrol boat casualties began to drop significantly.”
-Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr., My Father, My Son.

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A Brief History of U.S. Spraying in Vietnam

Twelve million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed over roughly 10 percent of South Vietnam, from the Demilitarized Zone in the north to the Mekong Delta in the south.

The U.S.’s official declared use of herbicides was to deny the enemy cover along the Ho Chi Minh Trail; to reveal encampments; and to push enemy forces back from the Mekong riverbank, greatly reducing their ability to ambush U.S. patrol vessels.

Researchers continue to find varying levels of residual Dioxin in the soil of southern Vietnam and where the herbicides were previously stored—areas that are now designated Dioxin “hotspots.” There are 28 potential hotspots in need of further investigation, all former U.S. bases in Vietnam, with a high possibility of exposing new generations to the toxic legacy of the herbicides. Of these hotspots, the U.S. air bases at Da Nang, Phu Cat and Bien Hoa were found to be the most contaminated in need of immediate remediation. 

Researchers from Columbia University School of Public Health estimated 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese civilians lived in villages that were under the direct spray paths of Operation Ranch Hand. At least a million soldiers from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), as well as the Vietnam National Liberation Front (NLF) and North Vietnamese Army were potentially exposed. 

It was estimated that in 2011, of the 3 million Vietnamese who lived with compromised health, 150,000 were children with birth defects. Vietnam has discovered exposure to Dioxin is a likely vector for many recurring conditions and illnesses, from Chloracne to Hodgkin’s Disease.

Since the late 1960s, Vietnamese scientists have been conducting epidemiological research on Dioxin exposure. They found that veterans who served in the south, as compared to those who served elsewhere, had increased rates of cancer, nerve, digestive, skin, and respiratory disorders. Among the cancers found were throat cancer, acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, lung cancer, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer. The international scientific community has not affirmed these research findings due to their lack of peer review.

Other than liver cancer, which some researchers believe are associated with higher rates of hepatitis, not exposure to Agent Orange, the above-mentioned conditions are recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as associated with exposure to Agent Orange-Dioxin and are eligible for compensation.

“There is no doubt that during and after the war, many Vietnamese absorbed this very toxic material [Dioxin]. It is our belief from toxicological research and epidemiological studies from many countries that this Dioxin probably resulted in significant health effects in Vietnam.”

– Arnold Schecter and John Constable

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