The U.S. wartime use of Agent Orange and other defoliants in Laos more than half a century ago is still causing dioxin-related congenital disabilities, according to a recent survey by an NGO calling on Washington to help people with birth defects.
The War Legacies Project, an NGO raising awareness of the long-term health and environmental impacts of herbicides sprayed in Indochina, conducted a survey of 126 villages in the southern provinces of Savannakhet and Saravan on the border with Vietnam between 2015 and 2019 Sit five kilometers (three miles) of spray paths.
The survey found that 500 people under the age of 50 in Laos have congenital disabilities that may be related to their parents or grandparents’ exposure to toxic herbicides during the war. It also found that more than 50 percent of those affected were under the age of 20 – “and left a legacy of debilitating diseases and birth defects more than two generations later,” the NGO said.
Dioxins – man-made chemical compounds now recognized as known human carcinogens – It has been shown to cause birth defects in all animal species studied.
The U.S. military sprayed 12 million gallons of dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange and 8 million gallons of other herbicides on Vietnam and parts of Laos and Cambodia between 1961 and 1971 to kill large swaths of forest and farmland during the Vietnam War, the report said.
The herbicides used during the war were up to 50 times more concentrated than was acceptable on U.S. farms at the time, and Agent Orange – the most notorious of the herbicides – had been contaminated with dioxin during the manufacturing process from making the chemical at too high temperature, the report said.
The U.S. military sprayed nearly 400,000 gallons of mostly Agent Orange between December 1965 and March 1966 along the Ho Chi Minh Trial that ran through the territory of Laos, the report said.
At least 800 villages in five provinces in southern Laos were sprayed with herbicides during the war, although the NGO was only able to survey communities in Savannakhet and Saravan provinces, said Susan Hammond, founder and executive director of the War Legacies Project. The other three provinces are Khammouane, Sekong and Attapeu.
“Part of the problem with Laos is that we don’t know the full extent of the spraying,” she said in an interview with RFA.
On average, about four or five people per village surveyed have disabilities, consistent with those caused by exposure to dioxin, Hammond said, adding that there were about 600,000 total during the war, including the U.S. Secret War in Laos Gallons of Agent Orange dropped on Laos (1961-1975). The most common birth defects noted were hip dysplasia, paralysis, and cleft lip or palate.
She estimated that in the area that spans the five provinces, a total of thousands of people with disabilities could be found from exposure to the toxic sprays and that birth defects are still found in people born today.
The 46-page report, titled 2021 Report on the Laos Agent Orange Survey: State of Health and Livelihood, states that the US government has not allocated funding to help people with disabilities in areas of Laos affected by Agent Orange and other herbicides were sprayed.
The US government has provided financial assistance to Vietnam since 2007, with more than US $ 390 million spent on dioxin cleanup and health and disability programs, and US $ 14.5 million in FY 2021 to support people with “severe mobility impairments Upper and lower body or cognitive “deployed or developmental disabilities,” the report says.
The herbicide-sprayed areas in Laos are remote and poor communities inhabited by ethnic minorities who do not have immediate access to medical care.
“The US government has not provided funding to help the people,” said Hammond. “You have been helping exposed people in Vietnam who lived in the areas that were sprayed with herbicides since 2007,” said Hammond.
“So we hope the US government will do the same for Laos in the future, but at the moment it is not providing direct funding to people with disabilities living in the sprayed areas,” she said.
The US State Department did not respond to emails and phone calls from RFA asking about the report.
Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Committee on Permits, has campaigned for landmines clearance in Laos and spearheaded efforts to repair the military damage caused in Vietnam, said Agent Orange’s operation in Laos was only recently revealed.
“We want to know what, if any, dioxin contamination from Agent Orange is present in Laos, and we would like to identify Laotians who have disabilities that may be due to dioxin exposure in areas where Agent Orange has been sprayed so that we can help them “He said in email comments to RFA.
“We have known about the UXO problem in Laos for many years and are working to get rid of US cluster munitions, but we only recently learned that Agent Orange was sprayed there,” Leahy added.
“We know Agent Orange has been used far less in Laos than in Vietnam, but we want to work with the Lao government to determine the extent of the problem and what can be done to address it,” said the senator.
The U.S. government has spent more than $ 500 million in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia disposing of duds (UXOs), Senator Tammy Baldwin said on Jan.
Reported by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.