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Heavily Sprayed Areas and Dioxin Hot Spots – Aftermath of Agent Orange

Dioxins in Vietnam Today

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The US and South Vietnam established several military installations during the Vietnam War.
Ultimate Guide to Understanding Dioxin and Diseases

At these places, military officers would use, handle, and store Agent Orange, solvents, lead and other herbicides for Operation Ranch Hand. Because of the sheer volume of Agent Orange in these facilities, handling them at times would result in spills, requiring the need for drainage ditches and spill ponds. There has been a long standing concern by present Vietnam over Agent Orange use, and over time, the US has been more sympathetic.

The Vietnamese government is working with several organizations to contain the Dioxin contaminated areas. The Ford Foundation is one of the organizations providing funds to help assess the Dioxin levels and extent of the Agent Orange problem in jungles and even in foods. The US also offered historical material to the Vietnamese government to help them overcome the post-war consequences of toxic chemicals over the past decade or so.

Let’s explore the confirmed research over the heavily sprayed areas, observed dioxin hot spots and reported erosion left behind in Vietnam after the war. Our esteemed colleagues will also look at some steps to remediate and heal the destroyed ecosystem and other measures military veterans can take if they were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Dioxin Contamination Across Vietnam

There are three major Dioxin hot spots in Vietnam, including the Da Nang air base in Central Vietnam, Bien Hoa Airbase in Bien Hoa City (25 km from Ho Chi Minh City), and Phu Cat Airbase in Qui Nhơn in Southern Vietnam.

Samples collected from these significant hot spots demonstrated high concentrations of TCDD (Dioxins) in the following:

  • Soil

  • Sediment

  • Fish tissues

  • Human blood

  • Breast milk.

The concentrations recorded exceeded Vietnamese and international standards, especially at areas or military bases where the military forces would store, load on aircraft, or spill Agent Orange and other deadly herbicides.

The results from the different sampling programs carried across these hot spots suggest decades of contaminated soil that is still contaminated to this day.

In 2001, a study conducted at Bien Hoa airbase revealed elevated levels of TCDD in the soil crossing over 1 million picograms per gram (pg/g). Before constructing a landfill at Bien Hoa base, another study revealed a TCDD concentration of more than a million parts per trillion (ppt) in the contaminated soils.

Soil samples taken from the former storage and mixing/loading areas at Da Nang airport in December 2006 and January 2009 exhibited higher levels of TCDD concentrations than all other sites sampled. According to the report, the maximum soil toxic equivalents (TEQ) concentration recorded in 2006 came from the samples collected from the former mixing/loading area, with concentration levels of 365,000 ppt, almost 365 times the internationally accepted standard.

At the Bien Hoa airbase, the soil collected in 2008 from a former herbicide storage facility exhibited Dioxin concentrations of 262,000 ppt. Contaminated soil from the storage site is now contained in a secure landfill, helping reduce the Dioxin levels in and around the area significantly. The highest concentration of Dioxin found in sediments was from samples collected in 2008 from the Pacer Ivy Area, recorded at 5,970 ppt.

At the Phu Cat Airbase, the samples collected from the former storage area recorded the highest levels of Dioxin, standing at 236,000 ppt. These levels are comparable to the contamination at Bien Hoa and Da Nang air bases. However, the extent of Agent Orange in Vietnam and contamination at the Phu Cat Airbase remains limited to a small spot.

The highest levels of TCDD in sediments were from samples collected from the east of the runway, an area suspected of Operation Ranch Hand by the US Army. Here, the concentration levels touched 194 ppt. The toxic herbicides from this area would flow into the South Lake, which would provide water to irrigate agricultural lands, potentially exposing the Vietnamese villages and farmers.

In 2006 and 2009, researchers collected samples from 6 large Tilapia specimens from Sen Lake, part of the lake inside the northern sector of the Da Nang Airbase.

The following are the contamination levels of fish tissue samples collected from various parts around the Da Nang Base:

  • Fatty tissues – 7,920 ppt TCDD

  • Muscle – 88.2 ppt TEQ

  • Eggs – 1,290 ppt TEQ

  • Liver – 1,540 ppt TEQ

According to the Health Canadian Guidelines, the concentration levels of Dioxin found in the six specimens of Tilapia are not fit for human consumption. What’s surprising is that the concentration in the Tilapia fat tissues is increasing over time due to bioaccumulation.

The Tilapia sampled from the lakes and ponds inside and outside the Bien Hoa Airbase exhibited severe Dioxin contamination, especially in the fat tissue. In the Pacer Ivy Area of the Bien Hoa Airbase, the fat tissue from a Tilapia demonstrated 3,990 ppt TCDD, the highest recorded fish TEQ in the area. Researchers also analyzed whole fish and muscle samples, which exceeded the World Health Organization consumption guidelines.

Besides fish samples, the researchers collected rice, manioc, and vegetable oil samples for analysis and found no traces of TCDD.

The hotspots discussed are all former US military bases where troops would handle and store the Agent Orange herbicide. However, according to Hatfield Consultants, a Canadian environmental firm, in the Aluoi Valley of central Vietnam, the entire valley is a hotspot due to Agent Orange spraying. Many researchers primarily suspect the herbicide’s health effects spread to humans through the food chain in certain areas.

C-123 aircraft would conduct operations over the Aluoi Valley, dousing the valley in Agent Orange. Ten samples were collected from any given site in the Aluoi Valley for investigation. Besides collecting soil, the researchers also collected blood samples from A So residents to determine the extent of Dioxin contamination left behind by the Vietnam conflict. Some lactating female residents volunteered to provide breast milk samples as well.

The final report revealed that TCDD levels ranged from 5.0 pg/g to 19 pg/g in the soils. At the same time, males generally had more TCDD contamination in their blood than females because of their greater caloric intake and exposure to contaminated soil.

(Typical TCDD concentrations in food remain less than 0.1 ppt. However, researchers compared normal and came up with alarming revelations about food from the lakes and forests. Scientists claim that TCDD concentrations in ducks could go as high as 331 ppt wet weight detected. With chickens, they found that TCDD levels estimated as high as 15 ppt wet weight. Fish could be as high as 66 wet weight, or 550 ppt in lipids.)

Three United States Ta Bat and A Luoi valley U.S. Army special forces bases existed, with one in operation for about 12 months. One of those three bases was A So (A Shau) base, used for three years and where barrels of herbicides were stored for use in the surrounding areas. Researchers found Dioxing laced hotspots with elevated levels of dioxin contamination, ranging from 4.3 ppt to 35 ppt.

The human breast milk from women at A So Commune had elevated levels of Dioxin contamination than other regions in the Aluoi Valley, Thua Thien Hue Province in central Vietnam, and other areas. So it’s not just in areas sprayed with Agent Orange; it’s people exposed to soils and water throughout the country.

MARK HENLEY/PANOS HE, including international researchers, collected samples from animals consumed by humans residing in Bien Hoa City, 35 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh City (South Viet Nam Vets call this area Saigon.) Their study was digested in the August, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (2003; 45: 781-8 [ PubMed ] “Even in children never sprayed with Agent Orange, dioxin is getting into the Vietnamese people…”

What’s surprising is that although Aluoi valley is one of the heavily sprayed areas, the soil at the contaminated sites does not have a high level of Agent Orange contamination due to forces of nature. It appears the areas where equipment was washed from aerial spray applications and dumping of excess chemicals created a significantly higher public health risk to people than the aerosolized Agent Orange for many decades.

It appears that farmer’s fields and historically forested areas maintained significantly lower levels of dioxin than the flatter more toxic locations along wash valleys, etc. It turns out that old forest cover protected the soil, and that continuous heavy rainfall, chemical degradation, and other factors have reduced dioxin hotspots in some areas, while the military storage areas have created concentrations harming locals in many areas along the former demilitarized zone (DMZ.). High dioxin levels are the legacy of Agent Orange use in the US Viet Nam war.

Mitigation Efforts And Contaminated Soil In Southern Viet Nam

There are other Agent Orange hotspots in Southern Viet Nam besides the places discussed above. However, most of the remaining Dioxin hotspots have lower levels of Dioxin. Hence, these areas that don’t have high levels of dioxin do not require remediation efforts. Mitigation efforts include containing the soil in those areas while restricting access to people and animals, sharply reducing the risks of exposure from the legacy of the American war.

The Vietnam War resulted in more than 58,000 American service members’ deaths and 150,000 injured. The war did not just affect the United States but also resulted in deteriorating human health for more than 2 million Vietnamese victims. For example, near the Ho Chi Minh Trail and near Laos, alone, approximately 224 spraying missions have been officially admitted.

It was not until 20 years later that the full effects of Agent Orange exposure on veterans started to take their toll. They started experiencing illnesses, and their health began to deteriorate with time. Even the government failed to make good on its promise to care for those who served in Vietnam and their environment.

What is the Most Effective Approach?

The most effective approach to significantly reducing Agent Orange contamination in Vietnam is by narrowing the lion’s share of aid to those several areas where the most people are suffering from health and disabilities. Proving the brunt of services in the provinces most heavily sprayed with dioxin cleaning-up up the dioxin hotspots at former U.S. military bases and storage areas is key. Scientists agree this is also the best approach to sharply reducing more contamination of food crops being fed to the general population.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Agent Orange Cancer Lawyers at Ehline Law

Ehline Law and our Camp Lejuene PACT ACT toxic exposure attorneys are ready to protect your rights as a vet contaminated with Dioxin. We can help you recover the compensation from the U.S. government. Money is what you deserve to get the best medical care in the surrounding communities to treat exposure to identified contaminants.

If you’re suffering from service-related illnesses resulting from your time in Vietnam, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation. We can even come to your home and we are ready 24/7 to take your important phone call as a public service, free of charge.

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