Two third-generation Vietnamese children living with the effects of Agent Orange.
Almost 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, the United States has established a cleanup program to address the effects of toxic chemicals used during the conflict that continue to afflict the Vietnamese people with cancers, birth defects and other diseases.
The defoliant Agent Orange fell on American soldiers in addition to Vietnamese military and civilians. Many of those who sprayed and came into contact with the chemical suffered illnesses later on. The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars on disability and health care for those soldiers.
The U.S. sprayed about 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, destroying millions of acres of forest and farmland.
The program, which is expected to cost $43 million and take four years, was officially welcomed with smiles and handshakes at the ceremony. But bitterness remains here. Agent Orange is mentioned often in the news media, and victims are commemorated annually on Aug. 10, the day in 1961 when American forces first tested spraying it in Vietnam. The government objected to Olympics sponsorship this year by Dow Chemical, a leading producer of Agent Orange during the war. Many here have not hesitated to call the American program too little — it addresses only the one site — and very late.
“It’s a big step,” said Ngo Quang Xuan, a former Vietnamese ambassador to the United Nations. “But in the eyes of those who suffered the consequences, it’s not enough.”
Over a decade of war, the United States sprayed about 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, halting only after scientists commissioned by the Agriculture Department issued a report expressing concerns that dioxin showed “a significant potential to increase birth defects.” By the time the spraying stopped, Agent Orange and other herbicides had destroyed 2 million hectares, or 5.5 million acres, of forest and cropland, an area roughly the size of New Jersey.