The Hidden Legacy of Agent Orange, Part 2 | News, Sports, Jobs

The use of “rainbow herbicides” led to a class action lawsuit in 1984 by Vietnam veterans and their families against the chemical companies that produced these defoliants. The lawsuit alleged that exposure to Agent Orange led to cancers, other serious health problems and birth defects in the children of veterans.

Dow Chemical Company used the “Government Contractor Defense.” In other words, if Dow could prove that the herbicides were manufactured according to Department of Defense specifications and that both parties were aware of the dangers presented by these defoliants, the company could not be held responsible for the health problems caused by the herbicides.

Opposing Dow’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, attorneys for the veterans cited a then-secret 1965 meeting of chemical companies at which Dow scientists warned of the significant dangers of dioxin to human health. health. As The New York Times reports, veterans’ attorneys said: “Since the mid-1960s, Dow had information that Agent Orange provided to the government contained high levels of dioxin, far beyond anything Dow considered safe or necessary… What did Dow do? of this information?” asked the lawyers. “He hid it from the government and asked the others, his co-defendants, to do the same.”

In May 1984, seven chemical companies agreed to pay $180 million in compensation if veterans dropped all claims against them. (The settlement funds would eventually total $197 million.) Many veterans were furious that the case was settled instead of going to court and felt betrayed by their lawyers. They demanded that the trial be heard by a jury of their peers. A federal judge has dismissed veterans’ appeals saying the settlement was “just and fair”. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader noted the “The chemical companies got away with legal fees and loose change.”

Of the 105,000 claims made after the settlement, approximately 52,000 Agent Orange-exposed veterans or their survivors received a cash payment of approximately $3,800. A second part of the settlement provided $74 million to 83 nonprofit social service organizations that helped 239,000 Vietnam veterans and their families — just over $300 per help.

A 2009 Chicago Tribune article cited a 1990 report prepared for the Department of Veterans Affairs stating that the military knew Agent Orange was harmful to armed forces personnel, but took few precautions to limit their exposure to it. chemical compound. The report cited a 1988 letter from James Clary, a former scientist with the Chemical Weapons Branch of the Air Force Weapons Development Laboratory. The letter was sent to then-Senator Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota), who was spearheading legislation to help veterans sick with herbicidal defoliants.

According to the Tribune, Clary’s letter stated: “When we started the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage from dioxin contamination in herbicides. … We even knew that the ‘military’ formulation had a higher dioxin concentration than the ‘civilian’ version due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was supposed to be used on “the enemy”, neither of us were too worried.

A 1990 House committee report alleged that Reagan administration officials “controlled and obstructed” a federal study of Agent Orange exposure among Vietnam veterans. “The White House compromised the independence of the CDC and undermined the study by controlling crucial decisions and guiding the course of the research” and “had secretly taken a legal stand to resist claims for compensation from victims of Agent Orange exposure. …”

In 2009, Alan Oates, a Vietnam veteran who chaired the Agent Orange Committee for Vietnam Veterans of America, noted that military personnel exposed to toxic herbicides had had little success since the 1984 compensation settlement. .

No review of the tragic consequences of Agent Orange exposure would be complete without examining how this toxic compound affected people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. According to the Vietnamese government, up to 4.8 million people were exposed to this herbicide while up to 3 million individuals, as noted by the Vietnam Red Cross, suffered from the same diseases as veterans. American servicemen and their families. The US government has said these numbers are unreliable.

I would say those numbers are probably too conservative for the following reasons: first, if 2.8 million US military personnel were unwittingly exposed to Agent Orange, then nearly 5 million Vietnamese casualties is not an exaggeration, because approximately 4.5 million acres were sprayed with rainbow herbicides – between 8 and 10% of South Vietnam’s total area.

Second, dioxin and other herbicidal poisons entered the food chain via rivers, fish, poultry, rice paddies, farmland and breast milk. In 1998, Canadian scientists discovered that high levels of dioxin still existed in heavily sprayed areas. David Levi said that “We shouldn’t see this as a historical issue. This is a contamination problem today. Parts of Da Nang Air Base had a level of dioxide contamination up to 350 times higher than international standards.

Third, Agent Orange sickened not only those originally exposed (from 1962), but also many of their children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren. Earlier this year, the War Legacies Project in Laos reported that half of the victims of Agent Orange exposure are under the age of 16. “There are worrying clusters: five born with missing eyes” in a neighborhood, “a family with five deaf-mute brothers and sisters; an inordinate number of short legs, malformed legs and hip dysplasia…”

A 1998 study in Vietnam compared the health of children in one region who had been exposed to Agent Orange with children in another who had not been exposed. Children in the exposed area were three times more likely to have a cleft palate, to be emotionally retarded, and to have extra fingers and toes. They were eight times more likely to suffer from hernias.

In 2004, a class action lawsuit was filed in the United States against the manufacturers of Agent Orange chemicals on behalf of millions of Vietnamese. The prosecution was dismissed on the grounds that it lacked a sufficient basis in that country and that the use of herbicides did not constitute a war crime. Following the layoff, a Dow Chemical Company spokesperson said: “We believe the defoliant saved lives by protecting allied forces from enemy ambushes and created no adverse health effects.”

A saying from the Civil War is as true today as it was during that conflict: “The war of the rich, the fight of the poor.” The ultimate tragedy of the Vietnam War is that, via Agent Orange, it continues to ruin the lives of so many innocent people – Americans, Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians.

How many sons and daughters of chemical company executives who profited greatly from the production of Agent Orange served in Vietnam?

George J. Bryjak served in Okinawa and Vietnam with the First Marine Air Wing. He lives in Bloomingdale’s.


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