By Gretel Green
Check out Claire Miller's excellent but disturbing feature on the health problems of Vietnam veterans in The Age last week:http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/01/12/1041990178469.html
It is a timely reminder of the United States' past use of chemical weapons of mass destruction.
One of the best known is the defoliant Agent Orange, of which 44 million litres were sprayed across the countryside in an effort to destroy Jungle cover and poison the North Vietnamese army's food crops. Another 28 Million litres of Agents White, Purple, Green, Blue and Pink were also used.
Agent Orange contained a highly toxic dioxin compound, exposure to which is believed to have caused an abnormally high incidence of miscarriages, skin diseases, cancers, birth defects, and congenital malformations among Vietnamese, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Dioxins are highly persistent and Miller says food from sprayed areas Tested in 1973 contained between 40 and 235 times the maximum daily intake recommended by the World Health Organisation. Follow-up testing in 1990 showed a drop of only 10% in these levels some twenty years after spraying.
In Australia, a 1998 Department of Veterans Affairs survey of Vietnam veterans' health revealed possible second generation effects. Answers to questions about their children's health showed rates of spina bifida and absent body parts were 10 times higher than expected.
Occurrences of cleft palate, anxiety, psychiatric disorders, accidental death and suicide were all significantly above average.
As one of Miller's sources says, Vietnam was not only a war but one of the first big environmental disasters.
One of major suppliers of Agent Orange was Dow Chemical, which also manufactured napalm - a jellied incendiary used against both civilian and military targets. During World War 1, Dow supplied mustard gas - a toxic blistering agent - for use in the trenches in France and Belgium.