In the War

Viet Nam

Twelve million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed over roughly 10 percent of South Viet Nam, from the Demilitarized Zone in the north to the Mekong Delta in the south.

The official declared use of herbicides was to deny the enemy cover along the Ho Chi Minh Trail; to reveal encampments; and to push enemy forces back from the Mekong river bank, greatly reducing their ability to ambush U.S. patrol vessels.

“As more and more Agent Orange was dropped, our patrol boat casualties began to drop significantly.”
-Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr., My Father, My Son.

The Continuing Problem

Researchers continue to find varying levels of residual Dioxin in the soil of southern Viet Nam and where the herbicides were previously stored—areas that are now designated Dioxin “hotspots.” There are 28 such hotspots, all former U.S. bases in Viet Nam, with the high possibility of exposing new generations to the toxic legacy of the herbicides. Of these hotspots, the U.S. air bases at Da Nang, Phu Cat and Bien Hoa were the most significant in need of immediate remediation. 

Researchers from Columbia University School of Public Health estimated that between 2.1 and 4.8 million Vietnamese civilians lived in areas that were under the direct spray paths of Operation Ranch Hand. At least a million soldiers from the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN), as well as the Vietnam National Liberation Front (NLF) and North Vietnamese Army, were also potentially exposed. 

It was estimated that, in 2011, of the 3 million Vietnamese who lived with compromised health, 150,000 were children with birth defects. Viet Nam has become a likely vector for many recurring conditions and illnesses that have been found to be associated with exposure to Dioxin, from chloracne to Hodgkin’s Disease.

Since the late 1960s, Vietnamese scientists have been conducting human epidemiological research on Dioxin exposure. They found that veterans who served in the south, as compared to those who did not, had increased rates of cancer and nerve, digestive, skin and respiratory disorders. Among the cancers found were throat cancer, acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, lung cancer, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer. Unfortunately, however, the international scientific community has cast doubt on these research findings for their lack of peer review.

Other than liver cancer, which some researchers believe are associated with higher rates of hepatitis, not exposure to Agent Orange, the above-mentioned conditions are recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as associated with exposure to Agent Orange-Dioxin and are eligible for compensation.

“There is no doubt that during and after the war, many Vietnamese absorbed this very toxic material [dioxin]. It is our belief from toxicological research and epidemiological studies from many countries that this dioxin probably resulted in significant health effects in Vietnam.”

– Arnold Schecter and John Constable


Aftermath. Photo: Goro Nakamuara, Ca Mau 1976