by Reuters –
HANOI (February 4, 2004) — Three Vietnamese who say they or their families became ill from Agent Orange defoliant used by the United States in the war nearly 30 years ago have filed the first lawsuit against makers of the product, a victims group said. The two women and a man filed the suit seeking unspecified damages on January 30 in a New York court, an official at the Vietnam Association of Agent Orange Victims told Reuters on Wednesday. The group was formed last month.
Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co., the two largest makers of the chemical named after the color of its containers, were among the more than 20 firms named in the suit, the official said.
One of the plaintiffs is Phan Thi Phi Phi, who is suing for illnesses from exposure to the chemical, which was sprayed from aircraft. “I do not want to do this for myself as it has been a long time already, but in Vietnam, the poorest, the most miserable and most discriminated ones are the Agent Orange victims so anything I can do for them, I will,” she told Reuters.
American veterans of the Vietnam War exposed to the herbicide have complained for years about a variety of health problems and have also sued the makers. In 1984, Dow and Monsanto agreed to pay $180 million to U.S. veterans. The chemical was used by U.S. forces to deny the communists food and jungle cover.
Under an agreement with Vietnam, America has pledged to conduct joint scientific research on the defoliant but has consistently declined to discuss any compensation. The issue has been one of the thornier legacies of the Vietnam War, and was raised during last year’s historic visit to Washington by Vietnam’s Defense Minister Pham Van Tra.
The other woman is seeking compensation on behalf of herself and a child who died from the chemical, the association official said. The man, who is dying from lung cancer, is representing himself and his two children who are also Agent Orange victims, the official said.
Among the chemical components of Agent Orange was dioxin, a compound that remains in the soil for a long time and shown to cause cancer, birth defects and organ dysfunction. Asked about compensation, the official said the applications did not specify any amounts. “We understand that this lawsuit is a long process and it cannot be settled overnight,” he added.
Between 1962 and 1971, an estimated 20 million gallons of herbicides, including Agent Orange, were used in Vietnam. Spraying of the chemical was discontinued before the war ended in 1975. Vietnam says about three million of its people suffer from diseases linked to the chemical.