Dien Ban District has over 1,000 children with disabilities and special needs, including Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, Autism, Microcephalus and intellectual impairment. There are barely any support services available. It has been suggested that there is a link between the use of dioxins, such as Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam war and the level of disability that is still occurring. The consequences of these disabilities can be catastrophic to individuals and their families.

What is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange is the name given to a herbicide and defoliants used by the American Army during the Vietnam War. It is named after the 55 US gallon orange-striped barrels that it was transported and stored in. The American Army also used other herbicides and defoliants called Agents Purple, Pink, Green, Blue and White. Agents Blue and White did not contain any dioxins.

Are the children’s disabilities due to Agent Orange poisoning?

We are unable to say for certain whether the children’s disabilities are due to Agent Orange poisoning. Other causes can be malnutrition and inadequate medical care. However, according to many official sources, Dien Ban was at the centre of one of the areas bombed heavily with dioxins during the war with the Americans. Scientists have tied dioxin to more than a dozen illnesses, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease and crippling congenital disorders. Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and a leading dioxin expert, said, “I never met a hormone system that dioxin didn’t like to disrupt. It has widespread effects in nearly every vertebrate species at nearly every stage of development.” In Vietnam, there are estimated to be at least 150,000 children whose birth defects – according to Vietnamese Red Cross records – can be readily traced back to their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange during the war, or the consumption of dioxin-contaminated food and water since 1975.

Why was Agent Orange used?

Herbicides were used to defoliate forests (remove all plant growth and cover to prevent the Viet Cong from hiding), to clear military areas such as fire bases and airstrips, and to destroy enemy crops and food sources.

Why was its use dangerous?

One of the herbicides used to produce Agent Orange was known as 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T). At the time of its manufacture by companies including Monsanto and Dow Chemical, internal company memos revealed that it was known that a dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD), was produced as a by-product of the manufacture of 2,4,5-T. This dioxin was extremely toxic.

The effects of dioxins

There are numerous studies into the effects of exposure to dioxins, such as those found in Agent Orange, on health and the environment. These studies indicate increased risks of genetic disorders and various types of cancer. It is also believed that amongst other conditions, skin diseases, Spina Bifida, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, diabetes, birth defects, low birth weight and damage to reproductive systems can result from prolonged dioxin exposure.

How much dioxin has been sprayed in Vietnam?

Approximately 20 million gallons of herbicides were used in Vietnam between 1962 and 1971.

Further Information on Agent Orange, its use and effects

Please visit our Links page for a list of websites containing more information on Agent Orange.

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