Monsanto is now instantly recognized as the company dominating the global food supply with its more than 7000 current worldwide patents. But today’s Monsanto is not a corporate newcomer. Although its literature heralds the company as having a clear and principled code of conduct and a pledge to demonstrate integrity, respect, ethical behavior, and honesty in everything they do, the truth is that this company has a legacy of contamination and cover-up that dates back more than a century.
The Rise of one of ‘The Worst Corporations in the World’
At the turn of the 19th century, John Queeny founded Monsanto Chemical Works to produce such nefarious products as saccharin, synthetic vanillin, and laxative and sedative drugs. The company was well positioned as a leading force in the dawning American chemical industry.
From the 1920’s until the late 1960’s, Queeny’s son, Edgar Monsanto Queeny, expanded the company into a global franchise, and changed its name to Monsanto Chemical Company in 1933. He added sulfuric acid, PCBs, DDT, synthetic fibers, and an array of plastics that included polystyrene to the product line.
During this time, Monsanto also created Agent Orange, one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971.
Agent Orange was a combination of equal parts of two herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. The 2,4,5-T used to produce Agent Orange threw off dioxin as a byproduct, a compound the World Health Organization classes as highly toxic. Dioxin can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, hormone disruption, and the initiation of cancer. Dioxin persists in the environment and accumulates in the body, even at minimal exposure.
In areas where Agent Orange was used, the concentration of dioxin was hundreds of times greater than the levels considered safe by the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA). This resulted in a host of terrible health consequences for anyone exposed. and led to decades of litigation during which Monsanto fought tooth and nail to avoid paying for the horrific damage military personnel suffered from. The class action case that followed was settled out of court in 1984 for $180 million, reportedly the latest settlement of its kind at the time.
More than 60 years of Contamination and Cover Up
Dioxin Leak at Nitro – $93 Million Settlement
From 1929 until 1995, Monsanto operated a chemical plant in the small town of Nitro, West Virginia, where it manufactured Agent Orange. In 1949, a pressure valve blew on a tank of the herbicide, sending plumes of smoke and vapors containing dioxin throughout the town, coating residents and the homes they lived in with powdery residue.
In a short time, some people developed skin eruptions and were diagnosed with an enduring and disfiguring condition known as chloracne. Others had prolonged pain extending from their chest to their feet. According to a medical report following the explosion, “It caused a systemic intoxication in the workers involving most major organ systems.”
Monsanto’s reaction? The company down-played it, claiming the chemical was slow-acting and just a minor irritant.
To get rid of the dioxin, the company dumped it into storm drains, streams and sewers, and stored it in landfills. Dioxin persisted in waterways and in the fish that lived in them. When residents sued for damages, they were told by Monsanto that their allegations had no merit and that the company would defend itself vigorously.
The residents of Nitro or their descendants finally received $93 million from Monsanto in 2012.
PCBs Contaminate the Town of Anniston, Alabama
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are used in many industries as hydraulic fluids, sealants, and lubricants. These chemicals have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems.
Monsanto’s plant in Anniston, Alabama produced PCBs from 1929 to 1971. Since then, tons of contaminated soil have been hauled away from the plant, but the site continues to be one of the most highly polluted areas in the country.
Why was it such a mess? During its production years, waste PCBs were dumped into a nearby open landfill, poured into a creek that ran alongside the plant, or just allowed to run off the property during storms. During those years, the townspeople drank from their wells, ate fish they caught, and swam in the creeks, oblivious of the PCBs. When public awareness began to mount, authorities found high levels of PCBs all over the place, and in the bodies of those people, where it will remain forever.
In 1966, a Monsanto biologist testing waterways near the Anniston plant found that when live fish were added to the water, “All 25 fish lost equilibrium and turned on their sides in 10 seconds and all were dead in 3 1/2 minutes.”
In 1970, the FDA found high levels of PCBs in fish near the Anniston plant, and Monsanto jumped into cover-up mode. A leaked internal memo from a company official outlined steps for the company to take to limit disclosure. The strategy called for engaging public officials to fight the battle for them. “Joe Crockett, Secretary of the Alabama Water Improvement Commission will try to handle the problem quietly without release of the information to the public at this time,” the memo promised.
A statement eventually released from Monsanto’s world headquarters in St. Louis stated, “Quoting both plant management and the Alabama Water Improvement Commission, the PCB problem was relatively new, was being solved by Monsanto and, at this point, was no cause for public alarm.”
The class action suit for Anniston was finally settled in 2003, when Monsanto was forced to pay $700 million.
More PCBs Dumped into the Environment
In 1977, Monsanto closed its PCB plant in Whales, but not before dumping thousands of tons of waste into the quarry of the town of Groesfaen. Authorities there say the site is still one of the most contaminated in Britain.
Internal papers indicate that Monsanto knew about the PCB dangers as early as 1953, when toxicity tests on the effects of PCBs killed more than 50% of the lab rats subjected to them. In 2011, Monsanto reluctantly agreed to help in the clean up after an environmental agency found 67 chemicals at the quarry site that were exclusively manufactured by Monsanto. Yet that effort remained underfunded and the quarry remains contaminated.
The Guardian reported that Monsanto wrote an abatement plan in 1969 which admitted “the problem involves the entire United States, Canada, and sections of Europe, especially the UK and Sweden.”
Navy Rejects Monsanto Product Because it was ‘Too Toxic’
Monsanto tried to sell its hydraulic fluid, known as Pydraul 150, to the navy in 1956, and supplied test results in their sales pitch. But the navy decided to do its own testing, and the company was informed that there would be no sale because the product proved to be too toxic. In an internal memo divulged during a court proceeding, Monsanto’s medical director stated that “no matter how we discussed the situation, it was impossible to change their thinking that Pydraul 150 is just too toxic for use in submarines.”
Monsanto Moves into Food, Biotechnology
Monsanto’s move into biotech began in the 1970’s, and in 1983 the first genetic modification of a plant cell had been achieved. Synthetic bovine growth hormone (rBST) was on the horizon. Monsanto’s public relations department portrayed GM seeds as a panacea for alleviating poverty and feeding the hungry. In 1985, the company bought NutraSweet artificial sweetener, a branded version of aspartame – the compound responsible for 75% of the complaints reported to the FDA’s adverse reaction monitoring system.
Monsanto Seeks Clean Image, Creates Solutia
In the late 1990’s, Monsanto created a new company known as Solutia, and off-loaded its chemical and fiber businesses. L. Bartlett and James B. Steele, chronicling the rise of Monsanto for Vanity Fair magazine, noted the reason for the spinoff was to channel the bulk of Monsanto’s mounting chemical lawsuits and liabilities into the spun-off company, thereby creating a clean image for Monsanto. Solutia became Monsanto’s solution!
As the company, now known simply as Monsanto, moves through the 21st century, it has a ‘new cleaned-up image,’ and a fine sounding mission statement. It refers to itself as a relatively new company that promotes sustainable agriculture and delivering products that support farmers around the world.
Except Monsanto is the 3rd most hated company in the world.
Monsanto’s legacy of contamination and cover-up should be a wake up call for you to run from the GMOs they have spawned. Remember the old adage that says leopards can’t change their spots?
Somewhere in the Lester B. Pearson Building, Canada’s foreign affairs headquarters, must be a meeting room with the inscription “The World Should Do as We Say, Not As We Do” or perhaps “Hypocrites ‘R Us.”
With the Obama administration beating the war drums, Canadian officials are demanding a response to the Syrian regime’s alleged use of the chemical weapon sarin.
Last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper claimed “if it is not countered, it will constitute a precedent that we think is very dangerous for humanity in the long term” while for his part Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird declared: “If it doesn’t get a response it’s an open invitation for people, for Assad in Syria, or elsewhere to use these types of weapons that they’ve by and large refrained from doing since the First World War.” The Conservatives also signed Canada onto a White House statement claiming: “The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal.”
While one may wish this were the case, it’s not. In fact, Canada has repeatedly been complicit with the use of chemical weapons.
During the war in Afghanistan, Canadian troops used white phosphorus, which is a chemical agent that can cause deep tissue burning and death when inhaled or ingested in significant amounts. In an October 2008 letter to the Toronto Star, Corporal Paul Demetrick, a Canadian reservist, claimed Canadian forces used white phosphorus as a weapon against “enemy-occupied” vineyards. General Rick Hillier, former chief of the Canadian defence staff, confirmed the use of this defoliant. Discussing the difficulties of fighting the Taliban in areas with 10-foot tall marijuana plants, the general said: “We tried burning them with white phosphorous — it didn’t work.” After accusations surfaced of western forces (and the Taliban) harming civilians with white phosphorus munitions the Afghan government launched an investigation.
In a much more aggressive use of this chemical, Israeli forces fired white phosphorus shells during its January 2009 Operation Cast Lead that left some 1,400 Palestinians dead. Ottawa cheered on this 22-day onslaught against Gaza and the Conservatives have failed to criticize Israel for refusing to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention.
For decades the massive Suffield Base in Alberta was one of the largest chemical and biological weapons research centres in the world. A 1989 Peace Magazine article explained, “For almost 50 years, scientists from the Department of National Defence have been as busy as beavers expanding their knowledge of, and testing agents for, chemical and biological warfare (CBW) in southern Alberta.”
Initially led by Canadian and British scientists/soldiers, gradually the US military played a bigger role in the chemical weapons research at Suffield. A chemical warfare school began there in 1942 and it came to light that in 1966 US Air Force jets sprayed biological weapons simulants over Suffield to figure out how best to spray potentially fatal diseases on people. Until at least 1989 there were significant quantities of toxins, including sarin, stockpiled at the Alberta base. In 2006 former Canadian soldiers who claim to have been poisoned at Suffield launched a class action lawsuit against the Department of National Defense.
During the war in Vietnam, the US tested agents orange, blue, and purple at CFB Gagetown. A 1968 U.S. Army memorandum titled “defoliation tests in 1966 at base Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada” explained: “The department of the army, Fort Detrick, Maryland, has been charged with finding effective chemical agents that will cause rapid defoliation of woody and Herbaceous vegetation. To further develop these objectives, large areas similar in density to those of interest in South East Asia were needed. In March 1965, the Canadian ministry of defense offered Crops Division large areas of densely forested land for experimental tests of defoliant chemicals. This land, located at Canadian forces base Gagetown, Oromocto, New Brunswick, was suitable in size and density and was free from hazards and adjacent cropland. The test site selected contained a mixture of conifers and deciduous broad leaf species in a dense undisturbed forest cover that would provide similar vegetation densities to those of temperate and tropical areas such as South East Asia.”
Between 1962 and 1971 US forces sprayed some 75,000,000 litres of material containing chemical herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. One aim was to deprive the guerrillas of cover by defoliating forests and rural land. Another goal of these defoliation efforts was to drive peasants from the countryside to the US dominated cities, which would deprive the national resistance forces of their food supply and rural support.
In addition to assisting chemical warfare by testing Agent Orange, during the Vietnam war Canadian manufacturers sold the US military “polystyrene, a major component in napalm,” according to the book Snow Job. A chemical agent that can cause deadly burns, Napalm was widely deployed by US forces in their war against Southeast Asia.
This deadly chemical agent was also used during the Korean War, which saw 27,000 Canadian troops go to battle. A New York Times reporter, George Barrett, described the scene in a North Korean village after it was captured by US-led forces in February 1951: “A napalm raid hit the village three or four days ago when the Chinese were holding up the advance, and nowhere in the village have they buried the dead because there is nobody left to do so. This correspondent came across one old women, the only one who seemed to be left alive, dazedly hanging up some clothes in a blackened courtyard filled with the bodies of four members of her family.
“The inhabitants throughout the village and in the fields were caught and killed and kept the exact postures they had held when the napalm struck — a man about to get on his bicycle, fifty boys and girls playing in an orphanage, a housewife strangely unmarked, holding in her hand a page torn from a Sears Roebuck catalogue crayoned at Mail Order No. 3,811,294 for a $2.98 ‘bewitching bed jacket — coral.’ There must be almost two hundred dead in the tiny hamlet.”
This NYT story captured the attention of Canadian External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson. In a letter to the Canadian ambassador in Washington, Hume Wrong, he wondered how it might affect public opinion and complained about it passing US media censors. “[Nothing could more clearly indicate] the dangerous possibilities of United States and United Nations action in Korea on Asian opinion than a military episode of this kind, and the way it was reported. Such military action was possibly ‘inevitable’ but surely we do not have to give publicity to such things all over the world. Wouldn’t you think the censorship which is now in force could stop this kind of reporting?”
No one denies that tens of thousands of liters of napalm were employed by UN forces in Korea. The use of biological weapons is a different story.
After the outbreak of a series of diseases at the start of 1952, China and North Korea accused the US of using biological weapons. Though the claims have neither been conclusively substantiated or disproven — some internal documents are still restricted — in Orienting Canada, John Price details the Canadian external minister’s highly disingenuous and authoritarian response to the accusations, which were echoed by some Canadian peace groups. While publicly highlighting a report that exonerated the US, Pearson concealed a more informed External Affairs analysis suggesting biological weapons could have been used. Additionally, when the Ottawa Citizen revealed that British, Canadian, and US military scientists had recently met in Ottawa to discuss biological warfare, Pearson wrote the paper’s owner to complain. Invoking national security, External Affairs “had it [the story] killed in the Ottawa Journal and over the CP [Canadian Press] wires.”
Price summarizes: “Even without full documentation, it is clear that the Canadian government was deeply involved in developing offensive weapons of mass destruction, including biological warfare, and that Parliament was misled by Lester Pearson at the time the accusations of biological warfare in Korea were first raised. We know also that the US military was stepping up preparations for deployment and use of biological weapons in late 1951 and that Canadian officials were well aware of this and actively supported it. To avoid revealing the nature of the biological warfare program and Canadian collaboration, which would have lent credence to the charges leveled by the Chinese and Korean governments, the Canadian government attempted to discredit the peace movement.”
International efforts to ban chemical weapons and to draw a “red line” over their use are a step forward for humanity. But this effort must include an accounting and opposition to Canada and its allies’ use of these inhumane weapons.
To have any credibility a country preaching against the use of chemical weapons must be able to declare: “Do as I do.”
Yves Engler is the author of Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt. His latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy.
WHO Refuses to Publish Report on Cancers and Birth Defects in Iraq Caused by Depleted Uranium Ammunition
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has categorically refused in defiance of its own mandate to share evidence uncovered in Iraq that US military use of Depleted Uranium and other weapons have not only killed many civilians, but continue to result in the birth of deformed babies.
This issue was first brought to light in 2004 in a WHO expert report “on the long-term health of Iraq’s civilian population resulting from depleted uranium (DU) weapons”. This earlier report was “held secret”, namely suppressed by the WHO:
The study by three leading radiation scientists cautioned that children and adults could contract cancer after breathing in dust containing DU, which is radioactive and chemically toxic. But it was blocked from publication by the World Health Organization (WHO), which employed the main author, Dr Keith Baverstock, as a senior radiation advisor. He alleges that it was deliberately suppressed, though this is denied by WHO. (See Rob Edwards, WHO ‘Suppressed’ Scientific Study Into Depleted Uranium Cancer Fears in Iraq, The Sunday Herald, February 24, 2004)
Almost nine years later, a joint WHO- Iraqi Ministry of Health Report on cancers and birth defect in Iraq was to be released in November 2012. “It has been delayed repeatedly and now has no release date whatsoever.”
To this date the WHO study remains “classified”.
According to Hans von Sponeck, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations,
“The US government sought to prevent the WHO from surveying areas in southern Iraq where depleted uranium had been used and caused serious health and environmental dangers.” (quoted in Mozhgan Savabieasfahani Rise of Cancers and Birth Defects in Iraq: World Health Organization Refuses to Release Data, Global Research, July 31, 2013
This tragedy in Iraq reminds one of US Chemical Weapons used in Vietnam. And that the US has failed to acknowledge or pay compensation or provide medical assistance to thousands of deformed children born and still being born due to American military use of Agent Orange throughout the country.
The millions of gallons of this chemical dumped on rural Vietnam were eagerly manufactured and sold to the Pentagon by companies Dupont, Monsanto and others greedy for huge profits.
Given the US record of failing to acknowledge its atrocities in warfare, I fear those mothers in Najaf and other Iraqi cities and towns advised not to attempt the birth of more children will never receive solace or help.
A United Nations that is no longer corrupted by the five Permanent Members of the Security Council is what is needed.
- Selective ‘obscenity': US checkered record on chemical weapons (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- World Health Organization still stalling release of report on Iraqi cancers and birth defects (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- IPPNW: Israel’s nuclear activities in the Negev contaminate the air all the year (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
In response to Bashir Assad’s crossing of a “red line” by allegedly using chemical weapons against his own people, Secretary of State John Kerry cites his own fatherly feelings as justification for the all-but-inevitable looming US military intervention in Syria. “As a father, I can’t get the image out of my head, of a father who held up his dead child, wailing …”
Hopefully CNN will try extra hard to sanitize the war footage from Syria once the bombing starts, now that we know how badly dead Syrian kids upset Kerry. Because you can be sure there are a lot more dead Syrian kids on the way.
Of course, Kerry’s sensitivity to dead children is a bit like Carter having a problem with liver pills. This is the same John Kerry who served in Vietnam, and who backed two attacks on Iraq and one on Afghanistan, is it not? One of the most iconic images in the history of journalism is a little girl, naked and burning, running down a Vietnamese road after a chemical weapons attack by the United States. And the US all but condemned Al-Jazeera as a terrorist organization for airing images of Iraqi children incinerated in the American attack in 2003.
For that matter, US “redlining” of a country for using chemical weapons is also a bit odd. In the same press conference, Kerry spoke of holding Iraq accountable for violating international, historically established norms. But the US itself has quite a history of violating such norms. In WWII, for instance, the U.S. holds pride of place not only for the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo, but for being the first and only military power in history to burn hundreds of thousands of civilians alive with atomic weapons in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
As for chemical weapons, aren’t Agent Orange and napalm — the liquid fire used on that screaming little girl mentioned above — supposed to count? The cumulative effect of US chemical weapons use in Indochina is millions dead during the war in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia — and millions more dead of cancer and genetic defects in the decades since.
While we’re on the subject of chemical weapons, the story just came out — at about the worst possible time for the US, as it’s rolling out its propaganda for another war — that the US actively aided Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in targeting Iranian troops with nerve gas. It was known for some time that the Reagan administration had shared intelligence with Iraq at the same time it was using chemical weapons in the Gulf War. But it turns out Washington was supplying intelligence in full knowledge that that intelligence would be used to identify Iranian troop concentrations for targeting with nerve agents. Iran was preparing for the strategic exploitation of a huge hole in Saddam’s defenses, which might well have turned the tide of the war and led to enormous Iranian gains at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates, increasing military pressure on Kuwait and other Arab Gulf states.
The overall American policy arc in Iraq from the ’80s on seems to be: 1) Help Saddam to make war on his neighbors; 2) help Saddam use weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors; 3) encourage Saddam to invade Kuwait; 4) bomb the hell out of Saddam in 1991 for invading Kuwait and making war against his neighbors; 5) bomb the hell out of Saddam in 2003 for possibly still having weapons of mass destruction.
In short, the United States simply does not give a rip about Saddam, Assad, or anyone else using chemical weapons or committing war crimes of any kind. The US routinely supports regimes that engage in war crimes — and then publicly condemns them for war crimes only when they stop taking orders from Washington or otherwise become a liability. War crimes by official enemies are just a propaganda point for selling wars to the public.
Consumer advisory: Don’t buy a used war from this man.
The US charge against Syria is being driven by Damascus’ alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians. While Washington is quick to intervene on moral grounds, its own checkered past regarding WMDs may put the world’s policeman under the spotlight.
“Nobody disputes – or hardly anybody disputes – that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in Syria against civilian populations,” US President Barack Obama told a briefing Wednesday. “We have looked at all the evidence, and we do not believe the opposition possessed … chemical weapons of that sort.”
It is this charge, so far unsubstantiated by UN inspectors, that underpins Western attempts to intervene militarily in Syria.
“If we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, ‘Stop doing this,’ this can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term,” Obama said.
On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry was more emphatic in stressing the ethical basis for intervention.
“Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.”
The obscenity of such attacks is a reality Kerry is all too familiar with, as the decorated war veteran served at a time when the US was engaged in a decade of chemical warfare in Vietnam.
From 1962 to 1971, the US military sprayed an estimated 20 million gallons of defoliants and herbicides over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in a bid to deprive the Vietcong of food and cover.
The Vietnamese government estimates that 400,000 people were killed or maimed and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of the so-called ‘rainbow herbicides.’
Christopher Busby, an expert on the health effects of ionizing radiation and Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, said it was important to make the distinction that defoliants such as Agent Orange are not anti-personnel weapons designed to kill or deform people, and are thus “not quite the same as using a nerve gas or something that is intended against personnel.”
“But nevertheless, it had a very serious effect, and they shouldn’t have used it because they must have known that it would have these side-effects,” Busby said. “At least, when they were using it they must have learned that there would be these side-effects, and they should have stopped using them at this or that point. But they didn’t.”
A similar legacy was left by the deployment of white phosphorous and depleted uranium following the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Busby said that while the genotoxic effects of white phosphorous were debatable, the deadliness of depleted uranium was beyond question.
“All of the genetic damage effects that we see in Iraq, in my opinion, were caused by… depleted uranium weapons. And also [non]-depleted uranium weapons of a new type. And these are really terrible weapons. These are weapons whic have absolutely destroyed the genetic integrity of the population of Iraq,” he said.
The people of Fallujah, where some of the most intense fighting during the Iraq war took place, have since suffered a veritable health crisis.
Four studies on the health crisis in the city were published in 2012. Busby, an author and co-author of two of them, described Fallujah as having “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied.”
There is a case to be made that in terms of Agent Orange, White Phosphorous and depleted uranium, the often deadly consequences have been a side-effect rather than the goal of their deployment.
While Washington currently argues that the use of chemical weapons is a “red line” that requires a swift and immediate military response to deter future crimes against humanity, the US has a checkered record on the issue, said former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, citing the time when then-US ally Saddam Hussein deployed chemical weapons against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War – with US knowledge.
“We had the famous picture of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein,” McGovern told RT. “That happened the day after the first public announcement that the Iraqis had used mustard gas against the Iranians. So [turning a] blind eye, yeah, in spades.”
“The problem is that we knew what was going on, and there is a Geneva Convention against the use of chemical warfare. Our top leaders knew it,” McGovern continued. “The question is: had they no conscience, had they no shame?”
For more, watch Marina Portnaya’s full report:
“Not only crop destruction, but US policies of extensive bombing, defoliation, and relocation of people from the countryside seem clearly to fall within the definition of crimes against humanity and war crimes,” wrote the Stanford Biology Group in a report entitled The Destruction of Indochina.
As part of a deliberate campaign of environmental destruction during its war against Vietnam, the US sprayed the countryside with herbicides containing carcinogenic chemicals to destroy tropical forest foliage and agricultural crops. The objectives of this diabolical program, which perhaps should be called “death by defoliant,” were threefold: first, to deprive the Vietnamese resistance fighters of the National Liberation Front (NLF) of hiding places and cover; second, to starve them into surrender by wiping out their food supply; and third, to drive rural peasants to urban areas controlled by the US-backed regime in an attempt to decimate popular support for the NLF.
Code-named Operation Hades and later Ranch Hand, the aerial application of the defoliant known as Agent Orange, which was manufactured by Dow Chemical and Monsanto, extended from August 1961 until August 1970, before being suspended by Deputy US Secretary of Defense David Packard. Some 49 million liters of the lethal herbicide were sprayed over 12 percent of the land area of Vietnam using average application rates 13 times higher than those recommended by the US Department of Agriculture for domestic weed control.
Agent Orange, so called because of the herbicide’s orange striped container, is a mixture of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), and n-butyl-2,3,4-trichlorophenoxyacetate (2,4,5-T), both of which are likely carcinogens according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is affiliated with the World Health Organization (WHO).
Over 18 million kilograms of 2,4,5-T, which constitutes 50 percent of Agent Orange, were sprayed on Vietnam as part of the fiendish US war crimes there.
By 1966, 2,4,5-T had been shown to cause greatly increased rates of birth defects, a fact which was suppressed by the US Government but confirmed by news reports from Saigon of increased birth deformities. The 2,4,5-T was also found to have been contaminated with TCDD (2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin), a known carcinogen described as “perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man.” That the executives at Dow Chemical were well aware of the toxicity of the dioxin-contaminated 2,4,5-T was confirmed by an intra-company memo dated 22 February 1965.
As a result of the immoral and irresponsible herbicide spraying by the US under Operation Ranch Hand, it is estimated: 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange; 800,000 people suffer serious health problems and require constant medical attention; and 50,000 deformed children were born to parents who were either directly sprayed with defoliant or were exposed through consumption of contaminated food and water.
In 1990, in order to keep the Agent Orange atrocities under wraps, the White House under President Ronald Reagan ordered the cancellation of a 1987 Center for Disease Control study, which had concluded that Vietnam veterans ran a 50-percent increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), a type of blood cancer, as compared to veterans who had been stationed elsewhere. Today, the US Veterans’ Administration assumes that all military personnel who served in Vietnam from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to Agent Orange.
Since then, research has linked Agent Orange exposure to the following cancers: Soft tissue sarcoma; NHL; Hodgkin’s disease; and Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), including hairy cell leukemia and other chronic B-cell leukemias. Evidence also suggests a link between Agent Orange exposure and respiratory cancers, prostate cancer and multiple myeloma. Also, sufficient evidence exists suggesting Agent Orange exposure is linked to Chloracne, Amyloidosis, Transient peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, Porphyria cutanea tarda, High blood pressure, Ischemic heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and Spina bifida in children of those exposed.
In addition, exposure to the dioxin-laden chemical has been shown to be a risk factor in a number of cancers, diseases and other conditions, including: immune deficiency; reproductive and developmental abnormalities; central and peripheral nervous system pathology; endocrine disruption; diabetes; decreased pulmonary functions and bronchitis; eyelid pathology; altered serum testosterone levels; skin rashes; and thyroid disorders.
And the remnants of Agent Orange from the US war against Vietnam continue the legacy of death by defoliant:
The environment around many former US military bases is still contaminated,
Heavily sprayed areas remain a source of dioxin contamination,
Dioxin levels around Da Nang are 300 to 400 times higher than internationally accepted limits,
Over a million hectares of forests have been destroyed, causing a loss of ecological equilibrium,
Birds and animals have been destroyed along with forests either by direct spraying or as a result of destruction of food sources,
Barren, dry lands still exist in provinces in southern Vietnam where nothing grows,
And higher rates of birth defects exist among residents of sprayed regions and among families of veterans who fought in the south.
Agent Orange defoliation operations by the US were not limited to Vietnam, either, but were also conducted in Korea in the demilitarized zone (DMZ). From 1968 to 1969, over 220,000 liters of Agent Orange were sprayed over some 8,500 hectares of Korean land near the DMZ, affecting an estimated 4,000 US and 30,000 Korean soldiers. Others claim that the deadly defoliant was used there as far back as the late 1950s. According to a US Veterans’ Administration press release, “VA will presume herbicide exposure for any Veteran who served between April 1, 1968, and Aug. 31, 1971, in a unit determined by VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to have operated in an area in or near the Korean DMZ in which herbicides were applied.”
The use of Agent Orange in Korea is particularly relevant to the writer, since I served in the US Army from August 1969 to August 1970 as a driver with the 2nd Supply and Transport Battalion at Camp Jessup, Munson, Korea located a few kilometers south of the DMZ. I was shocked to learn that I, too, must have been exposed to Agent Orange while carrying out my driving duties all around the region. Perhaps exposure to Agent Orange caused my thyroid problems or my children’s developmental disorders; lacking clear evidence, I don’t know for certain. But I would find comfort in knowing the truth – as no doubt would every victim of this horrific herbicide – even 40+ years after the fact.
Veteran Chuck Searcy, who returned to Vietnam to help with humanitarian programs for disabled children, said, “For me, the evidence is clear. I know it’s difficult to say 100 percent that this is the result of Agent Orange, but if you can find no other reason, then I agree with these families who believe the problem is the result of Agent Orange.”
In a February 2008 decision, the US second circuit Court of Appeals dimmed Agent Orange victims’ hopes of bringing to justice the criminal US government and complicit chemical companies responsible for Agent Orange. The Vietnamese plaintiffs then appealed to the US Supreme Court, which on 2 March 2009 refused to hear the case, bringing an end to litigation, but not the decree on the victims of death by defoliant.
Thus, almost 40 years have passed since the end of the US war against Vietnam, but for over 4 million Vietnamese and other victims of exposure who suffer profoundly both mentally and physically each day, this crime against humanity remains unpunished.
Yuram Abdullah Weiler is a freelance writer and political critic who has written dozens of articles on the Middle East and US policy. A former engineer with a background in mathematics and a convert to Islam, he currently writes perspectives on Islam, social justice, economics and politics from the viewpoint of an American convert to Shia Islam, focusing on the deleterious role played by the US in the Middle East and elsewhere.
This is the English-language version of Defoliated Island, a Japanese award-winning documentary about the usage of Agent Orange on Okinawa during the Vietnam War. Produced by Okinawa TV station, QAB, the show won national acclaim in Japan when it was first aired in May 2012.
- US Department of ‘Defense’ is the Worst Polluter on the Planet (Aletho News)
- The History of Agent Orange (Aletho News)
- 50 Years of Agent Orange (Aletho News)
- Agent Orange – Vietnam (Aletho News)
More than 50 years after it first sprayed Agent Orange in Vietnam, the U.S. government has started a program to help clean up a small portion of the contamination it caused during the war.
The Obama administration plans to spend $43 million over four years to remediate an area near Da Nang in central Vietnam. A former U.S. air base left behind large swaths of land polluted with dioxin, the chemical contaminant in Agent Orange that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other diseases.
In a country that commemorates the 10 years of American spraying, many Vietnamese reacted bitterly toward the news, calling the program too little and too late. Many in the country were incensed that Dow Chemical, a producer of the poison, was allowed to be a sponsor at the Olympic Games this year.
Nguyen Van Rinh, a retired Vietnamese military commander who now chairs the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, told The New York Times: “The plight of Agent Orange victims continues. I think the relationship would rise up to new heights if the American government took responsibility and helped their victims and address the consequences.”
It is estimated that the U.S. military sprayed about 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos from 1961 to 1971. More than five million acres of forest and cropland—an area roughly the size of New Jersey—were destroyed by the defoliants.
Agent Orange Justice presents an extraordinary international exhibition and art auction for the innocent children being born now with horrific birth defects in Vietnam.
NSW governor Marie Bashir will open the exhibition on August 7 from 6pm, at the Mori Gallery, 168 Day St, Sydney.
Celebrated actor Kate Mulvany, a second-generation Agent Orange survivor, will recite extracts from The Seed, her autobiographical award-winning play about the daughter of an Australian Vietnam Veteran.
Agent Orange Justice helps children in Vietnam who suffer terrible birth defects as a result of this harmful chemical, which was used in the Vietnam War. To this day, the chemical remains in the soil.
The exhibition’s curator Carol Dance said: “We are overwhelmed by the support we’ve had by some of our best-known and prize-winning artists who have generously donated their work. And, over 30 contemporary works on paper have been sent from Vietnam specifically for the exhibition. More than 80 works will be sold by silent auction. All proceeds will go directly to facilities caring for children in Vietnam who are Agent Orange affected.”
Artists include Dobell and Archibald Prize winners and artists represented in national galleries and international collections. Some of the artists include Suzanne Archer, Elizabeth Cummings, Euan Macleod, Reg Mombassa, George Gittoes, Pamela Griffith, Mai Nguyen-Long, Susan Norrie, Peter O’Doherty, Bruce Petty, Larry Pickering, Alan Moir and Wendy Sharpe.
After the August 7 opening the exhibition continues over August 8 to 11, from 11am to 8pm.
- Dow Chemical: a stain on the Olympics? (english.ruvr.ru)