Dioxin from Agent Orange found in Vietnamese food

DALLAS, Texas, September 9, 2003 (ENS): Dioxin from the herbicide Agent Orange used in the Vietnam war is still poisoning Vietnamese people today, 30 years after spraying ended, according to Dr. Arnold Schecter of University of Texas School of Public Health, Dallas. “Even in children never sprayed with Agent Orange, dioxin is getting into the Vietnamese people through highly contaminated foods, including ducks, chicken, and fish,” he says.

About 20 million gallons of herbicides were used by U.S. military forces in Vietnam between 1962 and 1971 to remove plants which otherwise would have provided cover for enemy forces during the conflict.

Along with an international research team, Dr. Schecter collected samples of food animals from Bien Hoa City, located 35 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Previous studies have identified Bien Hoa City as a hot spot for dioxin contamination.

The contamination levels found by the research team are reported in a study published in the August "Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine," the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Very high levels of TCDD, the highly toxic dioxin contaminant of Agent Orange, were found in most types of animals studied. The highest levels were found in ducks - up to 343 parts per trillion, compared with a usual level of less than 0.1 part per trillion.

Other contaminated food sources included fish, free range chickens and ducks, and even a toad. Samples of pork and beef, unlike earlier Vietnam studies, did not show elevated levels of TCDD.

Even higher TCDD levels were found in the fat of tested animals. This may be especially important, said Dr. Schecter, because fat is considered a delicacy in Vietnam.

The tests also showed elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in foods. The source of PCB contamination is unknown.

Dr. Schecter and colleagues previously reported highly elevated dioxin levels in the blood of Bien Hoa City residents - even in children born long after the end of the Vietnam war. In 1971, a spill from underground storage tanks at an airbase near Bien Hoa City released thousands of gallons of Agent Orange into the environment.

TCDD and other dioxins have been linked to cancer and a wide range of other health problems. The U.S. National Institute of Medicine last month released a report on strategies to reduce exposure to dioxins and related compounds in the food supply.

“Although most food in Vietnam is not contaminated with dioxins, certain dioxin hot spots are highly contaminated," says Dr. Schecter.

To help people in Bien Hoa City and other hot spots, Dr. Schecter and colleagues recommend measures to supply uncontaminated food, along with additional health follow up and possible environmental remediation. They also urge further studies of the potential health effects of dioxins and other toxic chemicals among veterans who served in the Vietnam War.

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