In the span of about a decade of the Vietnam war, a war which lasted about twenty years and claimed the lives of millions, the United States sprayed a chemical called Agent Orange throughout the land of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The amount of land destroyed by Agent Orange was roughly 5.5 million acres, almost the size of New Jersey. The United States stopped spraying the agent when they learned of the ill effects that the chemicals could have on those exposed to it; such as a substantial risk for birth defects, cancer, and other diseases.
Forty years later, the United States has instituted its’ first major program to rectify the environmental effects of Agent Orange on the land. The United States will spend about $43 million dollars to clean up a former air base in Da Nang; a program that will take about four years to complete. However, some do not believe this is enough. Today, there are still those in Vietnam suffering the human consequences of the harm that the chemicals have had on themselves as well as their children.
Those who have worked on the issue say that the United States has been slow to respond because of liability issues. It took years for American soldiers affected by the pollutant to come to settlements with the chemical companies who produced the agent. In 2005, on behalf of millions of Vietnamese, a class action suit was filed against chemical companies in the United States. The suit was dismissed on the grounds that the supply of the chemicals to the government was not a war crime, and the victims could not show a sufficient causal effect between the chemicals and their ailments. Today, in an effort to cleanse their bodies of the harmful chemicals, some Vietnam residents are using a method called the Hubbard method, named for the founder of scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, and endorsed by actors such as Tom Cruise. The purification method involves sweating in a sauna, taking vitamins and minerals, and strenuous exercise. Researchers in the United States say that this method is not an effective way to rid a body of the substance.
Does the United States have a social responsibility to help those suffering? How much assistance should be provided? Are the potential legal hurdles worth fighting?