Study Links Vietnamese, High Dioxin Levels

From: "Bruce K. Melson" <>
To: "~Docs Updates/Fifth Division Society" <>
Subject: Study Links Vietnamese, High Dioxin Levels
Date: Thu, 17 May 2001 14:45:39 -0500
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AP Science Writer Thirty years after the U.S. military stopped spraying the
defoliant Agent Orange, a new study by American researchers shows the level
of dioxin in the bloodstreams of some Vietnamese remains ``alarmingly
Public health researchers say residents of Bien Hoa City in south Vietnam
show dioxin levels as much as 135 times higher than in residents in Hanoi,
Vietnam's capital hundreds of miles to the north where the defoliant was not
sprayed. Bien Hoa was a major U.S. air force base and important chemical
depot during the Vietnam War. Most disturbingly, they said, some of the
affected residents did not live in Bien Hoa during the war and others are
children born many years after the war ended, indicating they were recently
exposed to a persistent source of contamination. Agent Orange exposure has
been associated with cancer, birth defects and miscarriages, although a
direct link to those health problems remains unproven. The results are
published in the Tuesday issue of the Journal of Occupational and
Environmental Medicine. Agent Orange has long been a knotty dilpmatic
for both nations. These latest results appear during a particularly tense
juncture as Congress delays ratifying a trade pact with Hanoi and amid
revelations that former Sen. Bob Kerry conducted a raid in which 13
were killed. But scientists said today's politics should not overshadow the
study's striking findings. ``We have a public health crisis for the people
living in Bien Hoa City,'' said Arnold Schecter, the study's lead author and
an environmental scientist at the University of Texas School of Public
in Dallas. ``These are the highest levels we've seen since 1973 after Agent
Orange spraying was stopped,'' said Schecter, who has worked in Vietnam
1984. ``I have never seen children born after the spraying with levels so
high.'' Other public health researchers who did not participate in the study
said Agent Orange remains a tragic legacy of the war that cannot be ignored.
They said the problem probably is confined to a handful of dioxin
``hotspots'' that could be surveyed and cleaned up with adequate funding.
``Although wishful thinkers might have assumed the problem would go away
time, that data indicate that for some populations the exposure continues,''
said Michael Gochfeld of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New
Jersey. Between 1962 and 1971, U.S. military tanker planes and helicopters
sprayed 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other defoliants in Operation
Ranch Hand to deny cover to insurgent Communist forces. The defoliants were
contaminated with TCDD, the most dangerous form of dioxin. Soldiers on both
sides, as well as local residents, were drenched by the sweet-smelling
herbicide. Today, thousands of American servicemen and their families
disability benefits for health problems related to Agent Orange. Among
Vietnam's 76 million people, more than 1 million are believed to be
including 150,000 children. In many places, the Vietnamese countryside has
not rebounded from the defoliant, but the environmental damage is not
uniform. Bien Hoa, located near Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) was one
the biggest Agent Orange stockpiles. In the late 1960s, more than 7,500
gallons of the defoliant spilled there. Schecter reports at least two
sediment and soil samples from the area showed TCDD levels as high as
parts per trillion. In the United States, he said, government cleanups have
been ordered for levels as low as 1,000 ppt. Throughout Vietnam, more than
2,400 blood samples collected by the Red Cross showed the TCDD levels in
humans typically runs about 2 ppt. In Bien Hoa, TCDD levels in 20 people
sampled peaked at 271 ppt, and were higher than normal in each case,
said. Left unproven is how the dioxin worked its way into humans. Schecter
suspects it accumulates in the fatty tissues of fish and water fowl, both of
which are important local food sources. Vietnam has not allowed Schecter to
analyze food samples. Even without those laboratory results, Schecter and
other epidemiologists say they recommend supplying residents near the Bien
Hoa hotspot with clean food and water. Then, contaminated sediments and
can be removed. Scientists said the hotspot could serve as a test bed for
public health programs and new cleanup technologies. It also could be useful
in finding American servicemen and Vietnamese emigrants who were exposed
during the war, they said.


"When the way comes to an end, then change - having changed, you pass
      I. Ching

 Bruce "Doc". Melson