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Decades after War, Monsanto and Dow's Agent Orange Still Causes Suffering in Vietnam

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HO CHI MINH CITY--Fifty kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, a withered trunk of a dead tree stands amid a mangrove forest in Vietnam's Can Gio district.

The tree was preserved as a reminder of the damage caused by Agent Orange, a defoliant that was sprayed over wide parts of the nation by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to deprive the Viet Cong of cover.

According to research conducted by the United States, Agent Orange was sprayed over 2.63 million hectares of land in Vietnam, releasing about 366 kilograms of highly toxic dioxin into the environment.

The chemical has caused an increase in cancer among Vietnamese and babies suffering from congenital disabilities.

Nguyen Duc and Viet were twins born conjoined, apparently as a result of the use of Agent Orange. They were surgically separated in Ho Chi Minh City, but Viet died of natural causes in 2007.

Dioxin affects reproductive functions, and experts have pointed to the dangers of disabilities and illnesses being passed down from parent to child.

According to the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/ Dioxin (VAVA), which receives support from the Vietnamese government, more than 3 million people in Vietnam still suffer from the after-effects of the defoliant. In 2012, a baby was reported to have suffered health problems related to the defoliant, meaning a fourth generation of victims had emerged.

Tran Thi Le Huyen, who is 29 and lives in Da Nang in central Vietnam, is a victim of Agent Orange. She has been bedridden since birth and her thin legs are bent.

Her mother, Thanh, 56, said, "We have visited various hospitals, but there was no place that offered any treatment."

Da Nang International Airport is located about 10 minutes away by car. During the Vietnam War, the airport was the largest base for the U.S. military as its planes went on bombing missions. The area was polluted by Agent Orange that leaked from containers or that seeped into the ground after planes that sprayed the chemical were washed.

A 2009 study found areas in which about 20,000 picograms of dioxin were detected in a gram of soil. That is close to 20 times the environmental standard in Vietnam and Japan.