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The Fate of Agent Blue, the Arsenic Based Herbicide, Used in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War

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Document pages: 60 pages

Abstract: The destruction of the South Vietnamese rice (Oryza sativa L) crop using an arsenic-based herbicide known as Agent Blue during the American Vietnam War (1965-1972) was not a secret; however, it received little media attention in the United States. Republic of Vietnam and United States (U.S.) militaries began destroying food crops (rice) in November of 1962 primarily via aerial applications in the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Spraying of Agent Blue on 100,000 ha of mangrove forests and about 300,000 ha of rice paddies just before rice harvest time resulted in the destruction of the standing crop and rendered the land contaminated with arsenic (As). Six Rainbow herbicides, commonly called Agent Orange, Agent Green, Agent Pink, Agent Purple, Agent White, and Agent Blue, were sprayed on wetlands, rice paddies, forests, mangroves, bamboo and military base perimeter fences to defoliate jungle vegetation, reveal guerilla hiding places and destroy the food supply of enemy troops. South Vietnamese farmers, U.S. and Republic of Vietnam military personnel, and communist insurgents were exposed to these herbicides with immediate and longer term impacts on personal health, civilian household food security and population-wide famine. Agent Blue (cacodylic acid, C2H2AsO2,) was the most effective of all the Rainbow herbicides in killing rice and grasses. Manufacturing of cacodylic acid began in the late 1950s in the U.S. at the Ansul Company chemical plant in Marinette, Wisconsin and Menominee, Michigan. During the Vietnam War, ocean going ships were loaded with 208-liter Agent Blue barrels and shipped via the St. Lawrence Seaway to the coast of South Vietnam. Arsenic (As) is a naturally occurring element that is found throughout SE Asia deltas including the Mekong Delta. Today arsenic contaminated rice and groundwater are growing concerns as neither naturally occurring arsenic nor anthropic arsenic have a half-life and cannot be destroyed. Anthropic arsenic has remained in the Mekong Delta environment for the last 60 years and added to persistent As contamination in water supplies, sediments and soils. Water soluble arsenic primarily leaches into the soil root zone and the groundwater or is carried by floodwater into adjacent waterways or volatilized under anaerobic rice paddy conditions as gaseous arsine. The health of 15 million Vietnamese people living in the Mekong Delta is at risk from the combination of manufactured and natural As in drinking water and food supply. The As in the contaminated rice paddy soil, sediment and water is up taken by fish, shrimp or by crop vegetation and trace amounts can end up in the food supply (rice grain) or be bioaccumulated by the fish, shrimp and birds which when eaten were bioaccumulated in the Vietnamese people. It is urgent that elevated As concentrations in water supplies and agricultural products be identified and mitigated through better run-off control and groundwater management; improved rice genetics and alternate crop selections; shifts in crop management associated with tillage, fertilization and phosphorus use; and systematic monitoring of food and drinking water.

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