U.S. government agreed to clean up its “mess” in Vietnam

On August 9, 2012, the United States initiated a project to “clean  up” herbicides including Agent Orange used in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. A large amount of toxic chemicals were used in Vietnam by the U.S. government to discover Vietcong fighters and North Vietnamese troops during war time. The harmful chemicals not only controlled Vietnamese fields and forests, they also reduced the number of Vietnamese people living nearby because of exposure to the herbicides. Vietnam requested the American government to clean up the “mess” it created during the war which resulted in some major health consequences such as cancer even after the war for decades. David B. Shear, the American ambassador to Vietnam, announced the start of a program expected “to cost $43 million and take four years.” Ngo Quang Xuan, a former Vietnamese ambassador to the United Nations said, “It’s a big step. But in the eyes of those who suffered the consequences, it’s not enough.”

The Vietnamese have fought for their rights to be compensated for the environmental crime caused by the American government during the Vietnam War. On  January 30, 2004, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin and some Vietnamese individuals brought a law suit against several  major chemical companies (In re Agent justice_for_agent_orange_victimsOrange Product Liability litigation, 373 F.Supp.2d 7). These plaintiffs could not sue the U.S. government and so instead, they brought the action against chemical companies using the Alien Tort Claims ACT. They claimed that the herbicides used were created by the defendant in “violation of international law and war crimes” and negligently under products liability and intentional torts. They allege the defendants’ action also posed “a civil conspiracy, public nuisance, and unjust enrichment”, and sought “damages for personal injuries, wrongful death and birth defects, and injunctive relief for environmental contamination and disgorgement of profits”

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed the suit on March 10, 2005. Judge Weinstein stated that use of the chemicals in Vietnam War “did not violate international law” because it “does not fit the definition of chemical warfare.” The court also found that the defendants had “the same immunity as the U.S. government.” The plaintiffs appealed but the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the District Court (Vietnam Ass’n for Victims of Agent Orange v. Dow Chemical Co., 517 F.3d 104). Later, the plaintiffs filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, which was also denied (Vietnam Ass’n for Victims of Agent Orange v. Dow Chemical Co., 129 S.Ct. 1524).

agentorange_sprayed-279x300Even though this class action ended without relief for the plaintiffs, the U.S. government has agreed to clean up dioxin in Vietnam. It was possible because Vietnamese did not give up their rights to stay healthy. This tells us one thing: the public should be made aware of similar environmental and public health incidents that happened in Korea caused by the U.S. government. Once the public recognizes the seriousness of the problem, it will hasten the process of getting support, remedial actions, and compensation from the U.S. government.

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