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Fight Against Glyphosate Could Reignite Push for Agent Orange Justice

Health + Wellness
Fight Against Glyphosate Could Reignite Push for Agent Orange Justice
STAN HONDA / AFP / Getty Images

A jury's verdict in California that a groundskeeper got cancer from repeated exposure to Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller is offering new hope for justice for millions of plaintiffs an ocean away.


During the Vietnam War, Monsanto was one of the primary companies that supplied Agent Orange to the U.S military, which sprayed 44 million liters (approximately 11.5 million gallons) of the dioxin-containing herbicide on the jungles of South Vietnam. As a result, at least three million Vietnamese people have suffered from cancer, neurological damage and reproductive problems that have been passed down three or four generations, Viet Nam News reported.

"The verdict serves as a legal precedent which refutes previous claims that the herbicides made by Monsanto and other chemical corporations in the U.S. and provided for the U.S. army in the war are harmless," spokesman for Vietnam foreign ministry spokesperson Nguyen Phuong Tra said, as The Independent reported Sunday.

In 2004, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) filed its first class action suit against 37 U.S. companies, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto, but the case was rejected three times. U.S. courts said there was no legal precedent for the case, that the companies were acting on the orders of the U.S. government and that there was not enough evidence linking Agent Orange with negative health effects, according to Viet Nam News.

"The government set the specifications for making Agent Orange and determined when, where and how it was used. Agent Orange was only produced for, and used by, the government," Monsanto has argued, according to The Independent.

But VAVA Chief of Office and Director of Liaison Lawyers Office Quách Thành Vinh told Viet Nam News that the recent verdict that Monsanto award former groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson $289 million in damages could help other victims of toxic chemicals get justice, including the three million Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange his organization represents.

Viet Nam News also pointed out that studies by the U.S. and Vietnamese governments have linked dioxin and Agent Orange exposure to more than 10 diseases.

"No matter how difficult and prolonged this case might be, we won't ever give up on it, for the sake of the millions of Vietnamese victims," Vinh told Viet Nam News.

That case might not be brought right away, as Vinh said U.S. lawyers had advised VAVA to wait before bringing a second suit.

Monsanto was acquired by Bayer AG in June, and Bayer has announced plans to phase out the controversial name, but it cannot phase out the more than 400 lawsuits pending against Monsanto in the U.S alone over the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.

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France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

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Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

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