by Prof Nguyễn Văn Tuấn, Garvan Institute of Medical Research and University of New South Wales, Australia.
Published by Giao Điểm, PO Box 2188, Garden Grove, CA, 92842, USA. $15.00 US.
During the Vietnam war, between 1962 and 1971, the American military has sprayed 77 million litres of chemical defoliants in South Vietnam as part of a defoliant programme to deny cover for their Vietnamese opponents. One of the chemicals sprayed was Agent Orange, which contains 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (or dioxin). Dioxin is known to be the most deadly man-made toxin, because it can cause certain types of cancer and a host of other diseases.
Despite the war ended almost 30 years ago and despite the environmental and health effects of the chemical campaign are still visible, there has been virtually no systematic documentation of the consequences of the defoliant programme available to the Vietnamese public. A recently published book, Agent Orange and the Vietnam War, represents an attempt to fill that gap. The book is the first and probably the most comprehensive scientific review of the available evidence relating to potential health effects of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. It is written in Vietnamese and is aiming at the Vietnamese audience. The author, Dr. Tuan Nguyen, is a professor of epidemiology from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and University of New South Wales, Australia. Although his expertise is in the epidemiology of osteoporosis, he has spent several years to research and write on the consequences of dioxin in Vietnam, his native country.
In writing the book, the author makes use of extensive research data which have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals around the world. The data are put together in 14 chapters organized into three parts. The first parts is concerned with the history of military use of chemical agents and the magnitude of Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. Part II provides details of the effects of Agent Orange exposure on human health such as birth defects, reproductive disorders, immunological disorders, diabetes, and cancer. It also includes a summary of the US-based Institute of Medicine’s findings on the effects of Agent Orange / dioxin. The association between birth defects and exposure to Agent Orange was examined in a meta-analysis of 20 research studies, in which the author notes that parents exposed to the chemical were associated with a.2-fold increased risk in fathering a birth defect child. In part III of the book, the author discusses various scientific issues in the interpretation of scientific data and evidence in relation to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, and then put forwards a number of practical suggestions for future research projects.
As a scientist and a writer, the author skillfully translate the complexity of scientific data into every-day language so that everyone can understand the core issue of the Agent Orange problem in Vietnam. The author also demonstrates an intellectual rigour in admitting that there are scientific uncertainties concerning the effects of Agent Orange exposure on some diseases, and proposes an explanation why it is so. In the last chapter, the author argues that the quantity of chemical defoliants sprayed during the war was the largest ever military exercise in human history, and that the use of Agent Orange directly contravened the Hague Convention and the Geneva Protocol of 1925. The book also argues that the US should take serious responsibility by providing reparations to victims of Agent Orange and by supporting public health programs aimed at cleaning up the environment of areas known to be affected during the chemical campaign.