Vietnam and The Dangers of Dioxins

What Are Dioxins?

Dioxins are toxic compounds which belong to a list of chemicals described as POPs or persistent organic pollutants. Dioxins are known to be harmful to humans and are capable of causing problems with reproduction, development, the immune system, and can lead to cancer. These chemicals are also long lasting which means that they can persist and cause harm to humans long after their initial exposure to the environment. Dioxins are known to be created in trace amounts during the synthesis of certain herbicides. Although the produced quantities of these chemicals are often small compared to the desired herbicide produced, they are far more toxic and, therefore, pose a great threat if present. In order to control the amount of unwanted dioxin byproducts produced, scientists often attempt to lower the temperature and concentration of the molecule trichlorophenol which is necessary for the production of some herbicides but reacts to produce the dioxin byproduct during synthesis. During the Vietnam War, the use of Agent Orange resulted in the widespread pollution of Vietnam with dioxins as a result of the 2,4,5,-T herbicide which exists in the weapon. The results of the exposure of both Vietnamese citizens and US soldiers to these chemicals has been devastating in the long term and remains controversial to this day. The production of herbicides which yield dioxin byproducts were phased out in the 80’s, however, due to their long lasting nature, these chemicals are still present within the soil, sediment, and water sources of some regions. 

Health Effects of Dioxins:

The Presence of Dioxins in Vietnam

Earlier this year, a study was released by researchers from the University of Illinois and Iowa State University which discussed how the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War has continued to cause problems to this day. Within the article, researchers explain how over 20 million gallons of Agent Orange were used in Vietnam which resulted in widespread contamination of the environment with a particularly toxic dioxin known as TCDD. The harmful nature of this dioxin has been able to persist to this day as a result of its long lasting nature and the bio-accumulation of the chemical as it moves up the food chain. After Agent Orange was sprayed, this dioxin would be washed by surface runoff into rivers or lakes where smaller animals would consume them which eventually allows the chemicals to make their way into human food supply. Fishing and farming are banned in most heavily contaminated areas across Vietnam, however, these laws are often hard to enforce which means these dioxins continue to affect humans today.

Journal Article Discussing The Effects of Dioxins in Vietnam Today:

Looking Towards The Future

The use of various chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides have done wonders for humanity as they have allowed us to greatly expand our levels of food production. However, we must be mindful of the types of compounds which we are directly exposing the environment to as it is likely that we could be harming ourselves in the long run. The difficulty with determining the dangers of certain chemicals, however, is it often takes years before symptoms of conditions start to arise as a result of exposure and by that time heavy use of the dangerous product has likely contaminated large areas. If properly utilized, mankind’s ability to artificially create useful chemicals is a great feat, if done foolishly, the creation of artificial chemicals could cause great harm. For these reasons I believe that it is necessary for newly created chemical products to undergo extensive testing for possible effects to animal and plant life alike. I would also recommend frequent screening of areas which are exposed to new herbicides or pesticides in order to detect any undesired effects, if present, as early as possible.

2 thoughts on “Vietnam and The Dangers of Dioxins

  1. I agree with improving testing before the use of chemicals. It’s unfortunate we have this cycle of chemical use and then discovering the chemical’s harmful consequences. It is worth it to input the time into testing these chemicals because usually the years of clean up and taking care of the consequences are much longer than the testing would have been.

  2. In regards to the contaminated rivers in Vietnam, I was wondering if there were ways to clean up these waterways so it can be used for fishing once more. I am sure the effects of Agent Orange has completely contaminated some bodies of water, but it sure would be great if there was a way to “filter” these dioxins from the water. Because of these contaminated waters, it limits the sources of drinking water for the people of Vietnam and it is truly heartbreaking how one war can still affect the people of this country.

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