Author: Grace Canning
Vietnamese war veterans and citizens alike initially exposed to herbicide Agent Orange, more specifically the chemical dioxin (TCDD) within the herbicide, are producing offspring with horrible deformities for up to four generations. During the 1960’s, the US contaminated crop fields over southeast Asia with around twenty million gallons of Agent Orange. Around four and a half million citizens lived in the villages in the wake of this destruction.1 The genetic and epigenetic effects on subsequent generations have been catastrophic and vast; however, investigations into these issues have been compromised. Controversy looms over the biology behind the causes of the birth defects these children are born with. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence of dioxin-caused mutation, it cannot be proved that deformities are a direct result of dioxin. Furthermore, deformed children can only be considered victims if one of their parents served in the war, otherwise they are just considered handicapped. 2 These facts, along with the US’s reluctance to take accountability for the “collateral damage” in defeating the Viet Cong, have prevented investigations from being seen through to completion.
The biological controversy arises from the consensus that dioxin chemicals are not genotoxic, meaning they do not directly alter the base sequences of DNA which would cause the mutations and deformities displayed in so many Vietnamese children. This begs the following questions: If dioxin cannot alter DNA in adult reproductive cells, how are deformities shown in subsequent generations at birth? What is causing these deformities if the DNA of the parents is not altered?
Although there is a lack of evidence for the genotoxicity of dioxin, there must be some proof of Agent Orange causing this epidemic of deformed children. Even if science cannot directly attribute the cause of certain deformities to dioxin there is an abnormally high rate of deformed offspring from exposed victims. It’s right in front of our eyes, but the government at fault fails to recognize it. 3
Fortunately, according to a study done by The National Academy of Sciences and The Department of Veteran Affairs in 2012, recent evidence has demonstrated that male sperm contains molecules other than just DNA involved in human conception, which may “play critical roles in early embryonic development.” These findings indicate these other components used in the makings of a human embryo/zygote could be susceptible to alterations by dioxin.4 This undoubtedly proves exactly how deformities arise. Furthermore, it is possible that through intercourse, the contaminated sperm of a male gets absorbed through the vaginal wall of an unexposed female. This could result in deformities in future offspring, even with other uncontaminated males. Now that recent science is giving more weight to the side of the victims, these facts need to be spread and used to their full potential to hold the US government accountable and ensure aid to those who deserve it.
The problem rests in real victims not getting the compensation they deserve because they do not meet the legal requirements of the Vietnamese government. This new science combined with international campaigning can be used to raise awareness and possibly facilitate new litigation to put an end to the utter ignorance of these people’s suffering. The United States and Vietnamese government owe it to the innocent children victims and their families to recognize the legitimacy of the victims’ claims and compensate them for their dioxin poisoning.
- “Eating, Drinking, Touching, Breathing, Nursing, Conceiving.” Agent Orange Record. 2010. http://www.agentorangerecord.com/impact_on_vietnam/health/.
- “A Tale of An Phuc House.” Ivan Tankushev. 2012. Film.
- “The Forgotten Victims of Agent Orange.” Viet Thanh Nguyen and Richard Hughes. The New York Times. 15 Sept. 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/15/opinion/agent-orange-vietnam-effects.html.
- Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides (Ninth Biennial Update); Board on the Health of Select Populations; Institute of Medicine.Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2014 Mar 6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK195093/.