Thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War, many seriously ill Vietnamese blame their conditions on exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange.
The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) filed suit in February 2004 against 37 U.S. companies that produced the substance during the conflict in Vietnam, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto Company.
Judge Jack Weinstein dismissed the case on March 10, ruling that there was no expressed rule against the use of herbicides or poisonous gases at the time.
Plaintiffs in the suit told the Associated Press they planned to appeal.
Speaking to the left-leaning newswire Inter Press Service, Tran Xuan Thu, the leader of VAVA, said that the use of the herbicide was “barred by international laws of war,” although in the article he offered no specific citation of those laws.
U.S. planes dispersed approximately 20 million gallons of the chemical to kill foliage and expose North Vietnamese soldiers.
It was used from 1962 until 1971 when scientists discovered it contained a highly toxic form of dioxin.
The U.S. Department of Justice strongly urged Weinstein to dismiss the case as they worried it would undermine presidential executive powers during wartime.
The defendants argued that they acted on presidential orders to produce the substance and were not responsible for its use.
The companies also claim there is no concrete evidence linking dioxin exposure to illness.
In 1984, seven chemical companies settled a class-action suit on behalf of 2.4 million American veterans by paying out $180 million in compensation.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers compensation and/or benefits to American veterans suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses.
The VA recognizes diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, lymphoma, neuropathy, various forms of cancer, and birth defects, particularly spina bifida, as resulting from Agent Orange exposure.
A photo essay on the FiftyCrows gallery website documents disabilities among Vietnamese children that may be attributed to second generation dioxin exposure.
“You can’t imagine the state of these children in Can Gie district, they can’t speak, they are paralyzed, they have only the life of a vegetable,” a Vietnamese researcher told Guerilla News Network, a leftist media outlet.
As reported by the Associated Press, a Dow representative stated, “We believe that defoliants saved lives by protecting allied forces from enemy ambush and did not create adverse health effects.”
“Agent Orange plaintiffs to appeal ruling”
Associated Press, March 11, 2005
“Agent Orange victims’ suffering continues”
Inter Press Service, March 16, 2005
“Agent Orange case for millions of Vietnamese is dismissed”
New York Times, March 10, 2005
“Vietnamese file Agent Orange suit”
BBC News, February 4, 2004
“Agent Orange lawsuit opens in U.S.”
BBC News, March 1, 2005
“Background on Agent Orange”
Dow Chemical Company
“Vietnamese sue over Agent Orange”
CNN.com Law Center, August 15, 2004
“Become familiar with Agent Orange and the health of our Vietnam veterans”
Department of Veterans Affairs
“Vietnam 21st century: On the track of Agent Orange”
Manuel Navarro, FiftyCrows PhotoFund Finalist, 2002
“Agent Orange victims sue Monsanto”
Guerilla News Network, November 17, 2004
“France Viet Nam friendship association to enter 40th year with success”
Vietnam News Agency, August 14, 2000
“Int’l Agent Orange conference held in France”
Vietnam News Agency, March 13, 2005
“Judge dismisses Agent Orange lawsuit”
Associated Press, March 10, 2005