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Toxic by-products of Agent Orange continue to contaminate Vietnam environment, researchers say

AMERICAN planes sprayed 20 million gallons of herbicides in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Dioxin, a contaminant in Agent Orange, continues today.
(Photo: US Army, Flight Operations Specialist 4 John Crivello in 1969)

Toxic by-products of Agent Orange are polluting the environment in Vietnam, including the food supply, 50 years later.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. aircraft sprayed more than 20 million gallons of herbicides – including Agent Orange – in the land of the forests, crops and wetlands. Agent Orange contains a by-product called dioxin TCDD, which can remain in the environment for decades or even centuries.

“In this paper, we investigate the short-and long-term environmental effects on the Vietnamese natural resources and how persistence of dioxin continues to impact on soil, water, sediment, fish, aquatic species, food supply, and the Vietnamese health,” Ken Olson, professor emeritus in the department of natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

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Researchers analyzed a 870-page USAID report, along with a dozen other research reports on Vietnam contaminated airbase sites, to explain how the dioxin TCDD move and the impact on the country’s long-term health.

According to the study co-author Lois Wright Morton, of Iowa State University, after the U.s. military sprayed in the 1960s, the trees and shrubs included in the chemical, then dropped it on the ground at the bottom, that brought dioxin TCDD in the soil organic matter. From there, move offsite in rain water, and later the establishment in wetlands, rivers, lakes, and ponds.

Disabled residents at the Ba Vi orphanage wander about the large campus in Ba Vi, Vietnam. The Vietnamese and the U. S policy makers to work on the cleanup of the damage to the environment of dioxin-TCDD. A plan in place and urges the U. S government to provide an estimated $30 million per year over 10 years to clean up sites still contaminated by dioxin. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Dioxin contaminated sediment was, and is still occupied by the bottom-feeding fish and shrimp, the study, which was published in the Open Journal of Soil Science, says. Although fishing is prohibited on the most of the contaminated sites now, the bans are difficult to enforce.

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“The worst dioxin contaminated site in Vietnam’s Bien Hoa airbase, which is 30 km north of Ho Chi Minh City,” said Olson. “After President Nixon ordered the U.S. army to stop the spraying of Agent Orange in 1970, this is the site where all the Agent Orange barrels that are still in Vietnam were collected. The vessels were processed and sent to Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean, where they were incinerated at sea in 1977.”

The researchers recommend the incineration of contaminated soil and sediment at 10 Vietnam airbase sites affected.

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