Continuing dioxin exposure and human health effects in the Vietnamese population from past usage of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War: A social justice investigation and case study

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Agent Orange was used as a defoliant by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, leading to serious contamination at a number of former U.S. military bases with a highly persistent and toxic class of chemicals known as “dioxins.” Today, 35 years after the war, members of the Vietnamese population living on or near these “hotspot” sites continue to be exposed to dioxin. The human health effects of dioxins are well known, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Veterans Affairs now recognize 15 different disease syndromes in U.S. Vietnam Veterans and 19 different birth defects in children of veterans as potentially attributable to previous exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin during the war. In Vietnam, the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange estimates that 3 million Vietnamese have serious health effects from Agent Orange/dioxin exposure. And possibly even more disturbing, according to some recent claims, from 150,000 to as many as 500,000 Vietnamese children suffer from birth defects as a consequence of parental dioxin exposure. Even though the U.S. government has denied legal liability for these dioxin-related issues in Vietnam, since 1996 the U.S. has moved, if slowly, in provided scientific and technical support to Vietnam in addressing this issue. And in a recent development, announced in December, 2009, the U.S. began to provide increased funding to support an agreement with the Vietnamese government to implement remediation activities related to Agent Orange/dioxin. In this current SJRC-funded social justice investigation and case study, we will be pursuing two central questions: (1) to what extent does the continuing exposure to dioxin and the resulting adverse human health effects in the Vietnamese population constitute an abrogation of the principles of social/environmental justice; and (2) based on international/national law and general principles of social/environmental justice, to what extent should the U.S. government and/or manufacturers of dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange be held responsible for environmental remediation of dioxin-contaminated sites in Vietnam, humanitarian assistance to the Vietnamese population affected by dioxin exposure, and compensation to affected members of the Vietnamese population?

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