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Viet Nam's Agent Orange victims file 1st US suit
Updated: 2004-02-05 08:45

For the first time, Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange have filed a suit against the U.S. companies that produced the toxic defoliant used by American forces during the Viet Nam War.

The lawsuit, filed by the Viet Nam Association for Victims of Agent Orange on behalf of three people, was submitted to the U.S. Federal Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Jan. 30, said the group's vice president Nguyen Trong Nhan.

"We filed the suit to the federal court because it has handled many cases filed by former American soldiers in Viet Nam before, so they are familiar with the matter," said Nhan, whose victims' group was launched last month.

Nhan said 10 companies are named in the suit, though he declined to specify them by name. Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto were two of the primary producers of Agent Orange.

Between 1962 and 1971, U.S. planes sprayed an estimated 21 million gallons of defoliant, mostly Agent Orange, over Vietnamese forests where they believed Communist troops might be hiding.

Many American veterans and Vietnamese have long blamed Agent Orange, which contains the deadly component dioxin, for a variety of illnesses, including cancer, diabetes and spina bifida. The U.S. government claims there is no direct evidence linking dioxin with the illnesses.

However, about 10,000 Viet Nam War veterans in the United States receive disability benefits related to Agent Orange exposure.

The three Vietnamese plaintiffs were Nguyen Van Quy, and two women, Nguyen Thi Phi Phi and Duong Quynh Hoa. All three had worked in areas sprayed with Agent Orange, Nhan said.

Phi suffered four miscarriages while Hoa has breast cancer and her blood tests show high levels of dioxin, Nhan said. Quy also has cancer, and has two children with birth defects.

Viet Nam has said that the United States has a moral and spiritual responsibility to heal the wounds of war. However, Hanoi has never formally asked for compensation for the victims of Agent Orange.

In 2000, the Vietnamese government began paying monthly stipends to government workers, soldiers and civilians who helped fight for the Communist side in sprayed areas during the war.

The lawsuit, filed independent of the government, seeks compensation for the health problems caused by the toxic defoliant, said Nhan.

Viet Nam has said an estimated 1 million people were affected by the defoliant during the war.

In 2002, Viet Nam and the United States held their first ever joint scientific conference on Agent Orange and its effects since the war ended in 1975.

A new study released last year found that very high levels of dioxin continue to be found in food samples in Viet Nam, decades after the wartime defoliant was sprayed over the country.

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