Agent Orange Legacy Scourges Vietnam Decades after the Vietnam War, victims wither away with scant efforts being made to tackle the deadly chemicals. By Sean Kimmons
A toddler with a curved spine is seen lying next to a sick child with an enlarged head inside an orphanage outside of Da Nang. Many of the children there are thought to have birth defects due to Agent Orange.
DA NANG, Vietnam – The frail bodies of Toan La and his brother sat paralyzed against a wall to prop up their crooked spines, one of many ailments thought to be inherited from their grandfather’s exposure to Agent Orange – a toxic herbicide widely used during the Vietnam War.
Born normal, the Vietnamese brothers grew mysteriously weak as young children and their health has since decayed from a crippling neuromuscular disorder.
Now aged 18 and 22, they are nearly immobile and spend much of their lives stuck inside one room, watching their muscles wither away.
“I am like a baby. I cannot move, take care of myself or do anything that I want,” said Toan, the oldest brother. “I feel that life is so meaningless and I have no more purpose.”
Roughly three million people including 150,000 children born with birth defects have been affected by Agent Orange, according to the Vietnam Red Cross.
As a result, the country’s rate of birth defects has quadrupled after the controversial war.
From 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed almost 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and similar noxious chemicals over almost a quarter of southern Vietnam to strip foliage and deny communist fighters cover.
Activists claim it was the largest chemical warfare campaign ever conducted.
“The consequences that it left behind are the most severe in the history of mankind,” said Ha Thi Mac, one of the deputy directors for the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA).
Dioxin, a key ingredient in the herbicides, is linked to a myriad of reproductive and development issues as well as other severe health problems in Vietnamese people and U.S. veterans who served in the war.
The deadly substance can have a lifespan of more than 100 years and still pollutes food and water sources, researchers say.
Despite the evidence, the “U.S. government has never accepted responsibility for the damage it caused to the people and the environments in Vietnam,” Mac said.