Researchers 'shocked' at Agent Orange contamination in Vietnam

The dangerous herbicide Agent Orange is still contaminating soil and fish in Vietnam at an alarming rate, a Canadian environmental firm has found.

Thedangerous herbicide Agent Orange is still contaminating soil andfish in Vietnam at an alarming rate, a Canadian environmental firm has found.

Vancouver-based Hatfield Consultants studied the contamination levels in the area of Da Nang, a large coastal city in central Vietnam, and found contamination to be 300 to 400 times higher than what is considered acceptable.

"We were very shocked," Thomas Boivin of Hatfield Consultants told CBC News on Monday. "The levels were significantly higher than we had anticipated."

He said if these levels were present in North America, action would be taken immediately.

"If this was in Canada or the United States, the area would be cordoned off…. There would be immediate studies and a cleanup of the site."

U.S. forces sprayed thedefoliant in Vietnam from 1961 to 1971. The herbicide has since been discovered to containthe carcinogen dioxin that has been linked to cancer, illness and birth defects.

Hatfield Consultants, a firm that has specialized in environmental studies since 1974, was commissioned by the Vietnamese Ministry of Health to research Agent Orange contamination.

Boivin said the Vietnamese government wants to use the results to push the U.S. government for compensation. Vietnam also wants theUnited Statesto help with a cleanup of the most contaminated regions, Boivin said.

The United States has compensated its own army veterans who have developed certain cancers since serving in Vietnam, but Boivin said little has been done for the Vietnamese.

Hua Pham, a former South Vietnamese soldier who lives in Vancouver, remembers how devastating Agent Orange was to his native countryside, stripping the forests bare.

"Trees, dead," he told CBC News. "All over, everything is dead…. When you spray, nothing lives, nothing."

Agent Orange, named after the orange stripes on the containers it used to be housed in, has been used elsewhere around the world.

The Canadian government has admitted that Agent Orange was used in the 1960s to clear brush at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick.