Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Pulling the plug on Agent Orange

When Federal judge Jack B. Weinstein dismissed the lawsuit against the 37 chemical companies that supplied the US military with the dioxin contaminated herbicide Agent Orange, the news was little noticed in the US. In a day it was submerged under the outrage du jour. But in Vietnam it didn't just fade away. The Vietnam News agency describes how the news was received there:
A farmer whose village was fiercely destroyed by US troops dropped his fork over dinner and gaped at the television as the US court dismissed the lawsuit filed by Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange (AO/Dioxin).

Huynh Ky is a victim of AO/Dioxin and has fathered four disabled children in An Xuan Village of Tam Ky Commune in Quang Nam Province. Three of his four children were born with mental disabilities.

"The criminals have turned their back on my children," the farmer angrily argued, saying he often watched the lawsuit process on television and wanted the US chemical companies (administration) to take responsibility for his condition and that of his children and all of the Vietnamese suffering from the effects of AO/Dioxin.


"It is an unjust verdict," said Vo Sy Kieu of HCM City. Kieu, 60, is a father of an 18-year-old boy who is paralysed and mentally disabled. Kieu was in the army and fought in the Quang Tri Battle of 1968, which was hit hard with AO/Dioxin.

"They reject their crimes and fail to claim responsibility in fear of scrutiny and condemnation of Americans and the international community," he said.
Weinstein ruled there was insufficient evidence that dioxin exposure was linked to the damages claimed by the Vietnamese, although he also cited broad legal grounds as a basis for his decision. The US government has never accepted the link, although they compensate US veterans for many of the same injuries.

Not surprisingly, the government seems uninterested in resolving the scientific issue. Last week they cancelled a major study of the health effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam (New Scientist):
Under a 2003 US-Vietnam agreement, the study would have looked at the health effects of the dioxin TCDD, with which Agent Orange was contaminated. But the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences cancelled the project on 25 February 2005 after "failing to receive the necessary cooperation from the Vietnamese government".

Project head David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany in New York, US, adds that the research "could have been definitive" in a class action brought by Vietnamese plaintiffs against US manufacturers of Agent Orange, including Monsanto and Dow Chemicals. Carpenter says the ongoing legal action would have "increased the reluctance of the US government to fund this project".
The cynicism of this takes one's breath away.