“Agent Orange” sprayed during the Vietnam War still haunt the country

The article is contributed by Ly Nguyen, Vice Chairperson of Vietnam-Japan Friendship Association of Thua Thien Hue Province, Vietnam.

Along with the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Thua Thein Hue province in Vietnam has suffered, too, from the devastating consequences of “Agent Orange,”which was used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Since the end of the war, the people of the areas contaminated with dioxin have made continuous efforts to overcome the consequences of the war and turn the “dead zones” into fertile land where human beings can live again.

The dioxin contamination in Vietnam was the result of U.S. forces spraying about 72 million liters of herbicides over the country during the war, which lasted from early 1960s to 1975. This spraying began in 1961 and escalated dramatically in 1967. The use of herbicides then ended in 1971. Between 1968 and 1971, a total of 6,500 spraying missions were carried out on 1.5 million hectares, an area equivalent to 10% of South Vietnam. Roughly one-third of these 1.5 million hectares were sprayed more than once and about 52,000 hectares were sprayed more than four times. The sprays included several mixtures of defoliants, with the most commonly used mixture dubbed “Agent Orange.” As dioxins are a stable substance, they persist in the environment for decades and it is clear that the dioxins used during the war in Vietnam continue to haunt the country, even today.

Thua Thien Hue province is one of the areas most heavily affected by Agent Orange and dioxins. Nearly 16,000 residents were exposed to Agent Orange, and in the mountainous district of A Luoi, more than 4,000 people were exposed to these poisons.

Efforts have been made to address the dioxin contamination in Thua Thien Hue province, particularly the Asho airport area in Dong Son commune, which became the most heavily contaminated area in the province because it was the location where the U.S. military landed and washed dioxin-carrying aircraft during the war.

During the Ranch Hand Campaign, from 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed 72 million liters of herbicides (containing 170kg of dioxin) in South Vietnam. Of this amount, more than 430,000 liters (containing 11kg of dioxin) were used in A Luoi. Fully half of the herbicides and chemicals sprayed in Thua Thien Hue province rained down on A Luoi. The Asho airport area has been divided into three zones—A, B, and C—in line with the level of contamination. The A zone, which covers approximately 2 hectares, is particularly hazardous as it serves as a repository for the toxins in the area. Current challenges involve educating local residents not to permit their cows to wander freely or dig ponds for fish as consumption of such products would be toxic to human beings. Mr. Ho Van Toi, an officer of CPC Dong Son, located in the A Luoi district, said, “Dong Son Commune is severely contaminated, so we warn the inhabitants not to enter the area, especially for grazing and farming.”

A “green barrier” composed of more than 3,000 trees, running nearly 3,000 meters in an area of nearly 10 hectares—which includes what is considered the “hot spot” for dioxin in the A Luoi district—has been created. This measure is reducing the harmful effects of the dioxin to some degree as scientists assess its ability to prevent exposure in people and animals.

Mr. Nguyen Manh Hung, the vice chairman of the A Luoi district, said, “We are working to improve the contaminated soil in Dong Son and provide support to the people in the affected areas as well as those who have been exposed to Agent Orange.”

With the efforts of relevant authorities, and the support of international organizations, today much of the land of Dong Son is covered with green trees and the contamination is being addressed. About 10 hectares in the Asho area, however, is still heavily contaminated and research is being conducted to reclaim the land so the local people can live safely and securely and develop their economy.