The war in Vietnam ended more than 35 years ago, yet one of its tragic legacies lives on as generations of Vietnamese continue to live with the devastating health and environmental consequences of Agent Orange. From 1962 to 1971, US forces sprayed up to 20 million gallons of the defoliant across swaths of central and southern Vietnam as a way to destroy the dense forests, jungles and rice fields that provided cover and food for the opposition forces.
The spraying was halted when the U.S. discovered that Agent Orange contained high levels of dioxin, a dangerous toxin. But by then, the damage in Vietnam had been done: an estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese had been exposed to the herbicide and nearly 18 percent of Vietnam’s forests had been contaminated, many of its lush ecosystems destroyed. US soldiers were not immune from this toxin, with an estimated 2.5 million Americans exposed to Agent Orange during the war.
Dioxin takes decades to break down, so it continues to taint Vietnam’s soil and ponds, specifically in “hot spots” located at or near former U.S. military bases where the herbicide was stored and loaded onto planes during the war. It contaminates the fish, ducks, vegetables, and rice that local farmers depend upon to survive—and exposes generation after generation to the toxin’s devastating effects on health, including birth defects, diabetes, and various cancers.
The U.S. Veterans Administration now recognizes 15 illnesses linked to war-time exposure. The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that roughly 3 million adults and children continue to suffer illnesses and birth deformities because of these contaminated sites.
The U.S. and Vietnamese governments have both taken steps to care for citizens and veterans affected by dioxin exposure during the war, but many experts believe it will take tens of millions to effectively address ridding Vietnam of dioxin and helping the people, including US veterans and their families, affected by it.
More than 30 years later, as battles rage in Iraq and Afghanistan, the lessons learned from the Vietnam War are still relevant today, reminding us of the many unforeseen and tragic consequences of war.
Agent Orange and the long-term effects
Agent Orange and other dioxin-contaminated herbicides were stored, loaded onto airplanes or frequently sprayed at the site marked on the map. The dioxin contaminate is still present in the soil at high enough levels to be harmful to people living at these sites today.
View Potential Dioxin Hotspots in Vietnam in a larger map
Site contamination level
Red: Priority hotspots in need of clean up and remediation.
Yellow: Sites with signifcant risk or where dioxin contamination has been found.
Green: Sites that have a lower risk level from dioxin contamination.
Blue: Sites where risk of residual dioxin is suspected.
Purple: Sites where more information is needed to determine risk level
War Legacies Project: Potential Dioxin Hotspots in Vietnam