Hundreds of thousands of children in Vietnam are all too familiar with the long-term impact of Agent Orange. Born with missing limbs, life threatening heart conditions, mental challenges and other disabilities, they embody the legacy of war.
Nearly four decades after the war, best estimates are that at least three million Vietnamese and hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers have suffered health effects related to their exposure to Agent Orange – the deadly herbicide that was sprayed over Vietnam at up to 50 times the concentration recommended by the manufacturer – and the impact is continuing. Dioxin, the toxic contaminant in Agent Orange, can last more than 200 years in the soil.
Recent progress has created a window of opportunity for the U.S. to intensify its effort in a shared commitment to reduce the public health impact in Vietnam.
– In 2011, the United States government will invest $15.5 million in a project to clean up the toxic “hot spot” in Da Nang, and an additional $3 million to expand humanitarian assistance to disabled people in Vietnam. This is more than six times the investment made only two years ago, and the highest ever appropriation to date for Agent Orange remediation in Vietnam.
– The newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, David Shear, signaled that the clean up and remediation of Agent Orange are a priority for the United States. “By January 2012,” Shear testified to Congress, “We will have broken ground on a major effort to remediate dioxin residue from the soil at Da Nang Airport, one of several ‘hot spots’ where the defoliant Agent Orange was stored during the war. We also continue to provide assistance for Vietnam’s disabled citizens without regard to cause.”
– Bob Edgar, former U.S. congressman and current CEO of Common Cause, recently led his second delegation to Vietnam. Leaders from a variety of fields, from religion to healthcare to the environment, saw first-hand the continuing impact of Agent Orange. Upon returning to the United States, Edgar wrote, “The soldiers, civilians, children and land need to be healed. It is our responsibility, it is our duty and it is time.”
– Major media organizations including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, CBS5 News and Daily Kos have produced thought-provoking and informative stories on the continuing impact of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
– Agent Orange advocates have convened in at least 14 cities across the U.S. and Vietnam to discuss solutions to Agent Orange.
We have a plan. In June 2010, the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group released a comprehensive Plan of Action calling on the U.S. to join with other governments, foundations and businesses in a shared partnership supporting a 10-year strategy to clean up the toxic “hot spots” and expand humanitarian services to people with disabilities.