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Agent orange in Vietnam: Effects and remediation

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Published: Mon, 10 Apr 2017

ABSTRACT

Many types of herbicides were used during the Vietnam War for the purpose of destroying the forests, where Vietnamese soldiers sheltered. Among them, the chemical that was used the most and most hazardous was Agent Orange. This paper, based on secondary research, will discuss some main issues of Agent Orange in Vietnam. In particular, three facets are mentioned, including the effects of Agent Orange on the environment and human in Vietnam, the manner of overcoming its consequences and the struggle for justice for Agent Orange sufferers. Overall, the paper draws the conclusion that the remediation of Agent Orange effects is gradually carried out, but it requires a lot of time and manpower to basically clean-up the remainder of the toxic.

Agent Orange In Vietnam: Effects And Remediation

  1. Introduction.

In Vietnam War, the U.S. Army used a chemical substance called Agent Orange to reveal Vietnam soldiers’ cover and shelters during their chemical warfare in Vietnam. Agent Orange is a name of the herbicide established for military, which contains a dangerous chemical contaminant called dioxin. Dioxin in Agent Orange is a highly toxic and it can cause disabilities, birth defects, diabetes and even cancer. The main purpose of using this deadly substance is to destroy dense terrain in jungles, where Vietnam Armies may be hiding; and to devastate Vietnam’s vegetation and sources of food. It is noteworthy that Agent Orange was sprayed up to about 50 times concentration recommended by manufacturers for eliminating plants in agriculture. The Agent was sprayed over South Vietnam by trucks, boats, infantryman backpack sprayers, and mostly by cargo aircrafts. In fact, not only the environment was destroyed, but human who exposed to the chemical could also be associated with serious health issues. It affected both Vietnamese people, and U.S Army veterans, who directly spread this substance into environment. This paper discusses the tremendous impacts of Agent Orange on environment as well as on people in Vietnam, how to remedy its consequences and describes the struggle for justice for Agent Orange victims.

  1. Effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

    1. Effects of Agent Orange on environment.

For the first time in human history, a kind of noxious herbicide was used on a large scale in Southern Vietnam, and it caused severe consequences for the ecological environment.

In fact, about 72 liters of herbicides (include 44 liters of Agent Orange) was sent out by U.S Army. 86% of the toxic was sprayed directly onto forest land, while 14% remaining was sprayed straight onto agriculture land, where mostly planted rice (H.T 2005). Such enormous amount of these fatal herbicides had created many terrific impacts on environment in Vietnam. From 1965 to 1971, the U.S Military sprayed Agent Orange over approximately 24% of Southern Vietnam, at least 5 million acres of forests and 500,000 acres of crops were destroyed (Vo, cited in Joseph 2011), corresponding to 12% of forest cover and 5% of arable land in total area (H.T 2005). As said by Stellman (cited in Vo 2009, unpub.), they sprayed the herbicide repeatedly in high concentrations, which comprised 3-4 mg/l, much higher than in circumstance of large-scale production and emergency. As a result, this chemical toxin had killed trees, animals, caused ecological imbalance and did great damage to forest resources. The abundant rainforest ecosystem completely vanished, and replaced by a ragged ecosystem. Various types of forests and natural resources in Southern Vietnam were influenced. Animals’ natural habitat was also heavily affected. A lot of plants in forests died and this led to the depletion of genetic resources of a number of rare species. The use of Agent Orange and some else herbicides in Vietnam War had devastated vast areas of forests, which is a very essential basis for stable development of Vietnam.

Besides the ecosystem, the soil was also contaminated as a result of the herbicides. The nutrient composition of the soil was damaged and the topsoil became exhausted. When the forests were exterminated, the soil would no longer be covered, and this brought about soil erosion. Research have pointed out that 3.3 million hectares of natural land, including 2 million hectares of domestic forest land were affected by herbicides. In many large areas, land has not been able to be used for cultivation and grazing livestock because the toxic have absorbed deeply into the soil. Since the contaminant dioxin is not broken down quickly and easily in soil, even today, traces of dioxin are still found in soil in many parts of Southern Vietnam.

  1. Effects of Agent Orange on human.

A. Schecter & J. Constable wrote that “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.”

Dioxin, even with infinitesimal amounts could seriously damage human’s health and reduce the lives of people exposed to it as well. In fact, dioxin can cause a great deal of diseases, such as Hodgkin’s disease, mental disorders, soft-tissue sarcoma, diabetes and several kinds of cancer (Martin 2009). Additionally, there is a potential that it can create several legacies for future generations. According to War Legacies Project (Dwernychuk et al. n.d.), herbicides, including Agent Orange had compromised about 4.5 million Vietnamese civilians and 2.8 million U.S veterans. Among them, it is estimated by the Vietnamese Red Cross that up to 3 million Vietnamese have suffered health effects and 150,000 children were born with birth defects (Fawthrop, 2004). The truth is there are so many people were killed by Agent Orange that there are not any firm statistics of the number of people died after exposing to this chemical toxic. With people who survived in the chemical warfare, dioxin would exist in their body for at least 10-12 years. Consequently, their offspring might be at risk of legacies, although they were born many years after war and far from battlefields. There are some kinds of birth defects namely cleft lip, cleft palate, fused digits, muscle malformations and paralysis; and some developmental disabilities as stated by NAS (cited in Dwernychuk et al. n.d.). More dangerous, plants and animals, which are sources of human’s food might consumed dioxin in soil and water, then the toxic may enter bodies through food chain, destroying human from cells. In short, the consequences of Agent Orange/Dioxin are enormous, long lasting and not been thoroughly studied. For those reasons, there have not been any ways to overcome its effects completely and swiftly.

  1. Remediation of the consequences of Agent Orange.

    1. Process of overcoming Agent Orange’s effects on environment and human.

To surmount the consequences of Agent Orange/Dioxin in Vietnam, it requires both effort from this country and the U.S government.

The very first thing needed is starting an afforestation program to green the area destroyed by Agent Orange. Scientists have planted rapidly growing trees to create the necessary coverage for bare land, and then they intercropped native plants to recover the featured ecosystem. Furthermore, a project called “Training for local human resources to restore forest ecosystem and reuse of degraded land due to the effects of toxic chemicals during the war” was launched with the financial support from Ford Foundation (Vo 2009). On the U.S Government’s side, they have also launched a project to clean up Agent Orange in Vietnam. Accordingly, they are providing $43 million to diminish the contamination degree in an area of 73,000 meters square from 2013 to 2016 (Ho, cited in Perry 2012). A decontamination clean-up site was established in Da Nang to allow the clean-up and Vietnam and the United States are looking at new sites in Dong Nai and Binh Dinh in the near future. Both of the two nations also hope to reach the target of fundamentally resolving the aftermath of Agent Orange/Dioxin by 2020.

Besides, addressing health issues is also an integral part on the way eradicating Agent Orange/Dioxin in Vietnam. A report in the Make Agent Orange History (2012) revealed that in an effort to remedy health effects, Vietnamese government makes a grant of about $40 million each year to Agent Orange victims. The Vietnam Red Cross has also raised a donation of more than $22 million to assist Vietnamese affected by the toxic herbicides. Likewise, the Ford Foundation, UNICEF along with other organizations and contributors has given $39.1 for health care and other services for the sufferers. An amount of $40.1 million had also been distributed for remediation and health programs by the U.S Congress

  1. The struggle for justice for Agent Orange victims.

For many years, Vietnam has tried to require the U.S government to take responsibility for environmental and health consequences of Agent Orange used in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the negotiations are still not getting anywhere.

As a consequence, a group of Vietnamese scientists decided to sue 39 chemical companies and those people who responsible in a number of courts in America (Dinh 2005). However, the lawsuits were judged unfairly and all dismissed. Although did not achieve the goal, the lawsuit has helped many people around the world have a closer look at the tragedy of Agent Orange. In the meantime, Vietnamese community has launched a campaign to appeal for the support from people around the world by collecting signatures. Fortunately, public opinion is supporting the lawsuit very strongly. The more good news is, in 2009, the Tribunal of Conscience concluded that the using Agent Orange of the U.S government is a war crime against humanity and a genocide crime human and environment and Vietnam. Accordingly, the U.S government and 39 chemical companies must take full responsibility and compensate the victims of Agent Orange (Hoang 2009). That is the biggest success so far of the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange so far. However, the struggle to find justice for the victims is still challenging. Vietnamese people have to be persistent, thus, it requires the help of millions of people to heal the “Orange Pain”.

  1. Conclusion

The above analysis has pointed out a great deal of massive consequences of Agent Orange on both the environment and human in Vietnam. Numerous negative effects caused by this chemical toxic still remain until now and they are likely to continue to exist in many, many years. Meanwhile, the process of overcoming the consequences is still carried out step by step by Vietnam, along with the help of the USA as well as many other organizations. What is more, the fight for the rights of casualties also has achieved certain success. However, these are the very first steps. In order to completely eliminate the effects of Agent Orange, this process need a lot more time and effort as well as the assistance of millions, even billions of people around the world.

REFERENCES

Dinh Vuong 2005, ‘Vụ kiện cá»a các nạn nhân chất Ä‘á»™c da cam/Dioxin Việt Nam – Hành trình Ä‘òi công lý’, Khoa Hoc Phap Ly Magazine, vol. 3, viewed 22 February, 2014.

Dwernychuk, W & Bailey, C., n.d.,‘Health effects of Agent Orange/Dioxin’, War Legacies, viewed 15 February, 2014, http://www.warlegacies.org/health.htm.

Fawthrop, T. 2004, ‘Vietnam’s War against Agent Orange’, BBC News story, viewed 18 February, 2014, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3798581.stm.

H.T, 2005, ‘Chất Ä‘á»™c màu da cam huá»· diệt môi trường ở Việt Nam nhÆ° thế nào?’, Khoahoc, viewed 12 February, 2014, http://www.khoahoc.com.vn/doisong/moi-truong/tham-hoa/606_Chat-doc-mau-da-cam-huy-diet-moi-truong-o-Viet-Nam-nhu-the-nao.aspx.

Hoang Nghia 2009, ‘Toà án LÆ°Æ¡ng tâm Nhân dân thế giá»›i: Công lý là lÆ°Æ¡ng tri nhân loại’ [online] Available at URL: http://www.tapchicongsan.org.vn/Home/Binh-luan/2009/1887/Toa-an-Luong-tam-Nhan-dan-the-gioi-Cong-ly-la-luong.aspx (Accessed 23 February, 2014)

Joshep, J. 2011, ‘Lịch sá»­ chất Ä‘á»™c Da cam và Dioxin ở Việt Nam’, viewed 10 February, 2014, http://www.aspeninstitute.org/vi/policy-work/agent-orange/history.

‘Make Agent Orange History 2012’, ‘Solutions for Agent Orange In Vietnam’, viewed February 20, 2014), http://makeagentorangehistory.org/agent-orange-resources/background/solutions-for-agent-orange-in-vietnam/.

Martin, M.F., 2009, Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange and U.S.-Vietnam Relations, United States Congressional Research Service, p.10, viewed 14 February, 2014

Perry, M. 2012, ‘U.S. starts its first Agent Orange cleanup in Vietnam’ [online] Available at URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/09/us-vietnam-usa-agentorange-idUSBRE87803K20120809 (Accessed February 20, 2014)

Vo Quy, 2009, Report in the cahier of Agent Orange, 2nd at United States House of Representatives, viewed 14 February, 2014.

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