Vietnamese Wildlife Still Paying a High Price for Chemical Warfare
King, Jessie, The Independent (London, England)
Forty years on, much of the environmental damage caused to Vietnam by American forces during the Vietnam War has still not been repaired, according to a new study.
In particular, the effects of the massive amounts of chemical defoliants sprayed from the air to destroy the jungle hiding places of the Vietcong guerrillas are still being felt, says the study, the first comprehensive account of Vietnam's natural history written in English.
Between 1961 and 1971, more than 20 million gallons of herbicides, the most notorious being "Agent Orange", were sprayed by the US to defoliate forests, clear growth along the borders of military sites and eliminate enemy crops.
Some of the herbicides also contained dioxins - compounds potentially harmful to people and wildlife - while one, "Agent Blue" - used mainly for crop destruction - was made up mainly of an organic arsenic compound. Repeated applications of the chemicals "sometimes eradicated all vegetation", according to the study - Vietnam: A Natural History - and the environment has still not recovered in many places. Weedy plant species such as alang-alang (also known as cogon or American grass) often invaded cleared areas, killing other plants and preventing normal regeneration of the forest. "In many areas, these weeds continue to dominate the landscape decades after the defoliants were sprayed," says the study.
As the spray was often concentrated along strategic waterways, it is believed to have had a long-term impact on wetlands and riverside vegetation. Scientists are finding that dioxins still surface in freshwater animals. …