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
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.