Thursday, December 3, 1998 Published at 22:29 GMT
Agent Orange blights Vietnam
Agent Orange has dramatically changed the Vietnamese landscape
Robin Denselow reports that poisons dropped by US forces during the Vietnam War have left a long-lasting legacy.
However, one weapon that was used by the Americans is still lethal. New research shows it is still creating environmental chaos, poisoning the food chain and causing serious concern over its effects on human health.
In total, 11m gallons were poured over South Vietnam between 1961 and 71, over 10% of the country - 14% of the area targeted was farmland.
Agent Orange was a cocktail of chemicals that were stored in drums marked with an orange band. It was contaminated with TCDD, the most poisonous dioxin, known to cause cancer and other diseases.
The US says there is no proof and that all this is just propaganda. And yet, in the States, Vietnam veterans who handled Agent Orange can claim compensation for a whole range of other diseases recognised as being associated with dioxin.
They range from skin diseases such as Chloracne, through to conditions that affect the nerves and lymphatic glands as well as a range of cancers - of the lung, larynx and prostate.
Vietnamese scientists studying dioxin levels have been hampered by lack of resources.
Proof of contamination
But an independent Canadian team, Hatfield Consultants, have studied the levels of dioxin that still exist in one area that was heavily sprayed and found disturbing results.
"The dioxins that are present are entering the food chain today, and also being taken up by the people living in the area today."
The lasting legacy of the Agent Orange drop has even staggered some war veterans.
Chuck Starey, of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, said: "Any sprays, poisons that are sprayed from the airplanes and helicopters you have to have some concerns about, but I never imagined it would be as devastating as apparently it has been over the years."
Vietnamese scientists have been shocked by the Canadian team's findings. There is talk of evacuating contaminated areas - a quarter of a century after the spraying stopped.
Dr Nguyen's pilot study compared the health of children in one area that had been sprayed with those in another that had not.
Children in areas that had been sprayed were:
The Vietnamese government claims there are so many children born with problems caused by dioxin that they have had to set up a network of 11 special schools - so called 'peace villages' - across the country.
Agent Orange is not the only still-remaining lethal legacy of the American war. Areas such as Quang Tri Province, north of the Aloui valley, are still littered with unexpoded bombs. In total, it is estimated that six million are still scattered across Vietnam.
Detonating unexploded bombs in areas where dioxin is in the soil is likely to re-activate the chemical. This means demining must be followed by decontamination if land is to be made fully safe.
In addition to the Aluoi Valley it is thought there could be at least nine other heavily contaminated 'hot spots'. The cost of a clear-up operation could be enormous.