I spent two and one-half years involved with the Viet Nam War with boots on the ground. I began with Engineers; then extended to become a patrol leader in the 3rd Recon Battalion, Charlie Company; and finally I volunteered to return as C.O. of Alpha Company, 1st Bn. 26th Marines. Most of my time was spent in Quang Nam Province surrounding the City of Da Nang. When I went back more recently and lived in Da Nang for four years, I asked to meet victims of diseases caused by Agent Orange.
I thought I would be introduced to old soldiers. Instead, I was taken to meet families with children who had these diseases, I looked into the eyes of not only the children, but the mothers too. The eyes of the moms revealed a deep sadness, despair, and hopelessness. They were poor families – lucky if they could make $125/month, and most could not. One mom went to construction sites and gathered emptied cement bags and took them for sale to business that reused that paper. Some sold lottery tickets on the streets of Da Nang, like beggars on the streets. Their only help from outside the family was a little from the government and DAVA (the Da Nang Association for Victims of Agent Orange), amounting to maybe a total of $25/month. Some, in their despair, left their crippled babies at orphanages. Drew Brown has given statistics about the use and effects of Agent Orange in his “About Us” comments. I would like to add a few more. There are an estimated 5,000 people effected in Da Nang and Quang Nam Province. It is not known what percentage of these diseases are caused by genetic inheritance and how much by recent ingestion of fish and plants that still live and grow in the hot spot toxic water bodies and adjacent poisonous soils. However, the following can be noted:
The following information is taken from a report published by Office of the National Steering Committee 33, Ha Noi, Viet Nam, based on information gathered and analyzed by the Hatfield Consultants, West Vancouver, BC, Canada, August 2007.
“The results of (55 patients sampled) showed that individuals who work on the Da Nang Airbase in Sen Lake (harvesting fish and lotus) and in the airbase gardens (which are often flooded) have dioxin concentrations in their blood more than 100 times globally acceptable levels.”
The study included a comparison of Da Nang to Ha Dong Province that had no exposure to Dioxin, and one can see the following:
Da Nang = 2.18 cases of congenital deformities per 1,000 total population (this is not per 1,000 births). In Ha Dong = 0.83 cases of congenital deformity.
Da Nang = 5.38 cases of congenital deformity in children per 1,000 living children (in the total city). In Ha Dong = 1.45 cases of the same.
Soil samples in the area of the former Agent Orange mixing and loading areas of the Da Nang Airport were polluted by 365 times the globally acceptable levels for dioxin. Fish in the adjacent lake had 100 times the acceptable levels. Although the US is finally funding decontamination of soil at the airbase, little is being done for the human victims, and nothing yet for the 27 other major hot spots in Viet Nam.
The Vietnamese medical scientist, Dr. Nguyen Viet Nhan (vice-chairman of the department of human physiology in Hue City) did an investigation in Cam Lo district, Quang Tri province, (a heavily sprayed area during the war, and the location of U.S. bases) comparing the results with those from a control group in Hue City (not sprayed).
“The Vietnamese lack of means (funds, equipment) forced him to concentrate on congenital birth defects that can be visually diagnosed: cleft palate, cataract, inguinal hernia, clubfoot, polydactily and others. Some of his outcomes (Cam Lo compared to the control group): cleft palate 3 times (more in Cam Lo), cataract 6 (times), inguinal hernia 8 (times), clubfoot 4 (times), polydactily 3 times higher in Cam Lo. As an extra he also investigated two symptoms that relate to mental retardation (both due to brain damage during pregnancy): they were 2 and 3 times as high in Cam Lo compared to the control group.”
In another study of Vietnamese war veterans’ families, the incidence of congenital malformations among births showed 3,045 among veterans exposed to Agent Orange and 812 among veterans not exposed. Exposed veterans constituted about 53% of the study group and 47% for the unexposed group. More international studies in 2009 and 2010 confirmed the 2007 findings.