- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

HANOI The first Vietnamese-U.S. scientific conference on Agent Orange opened yesterday in an effort to confront what the U.S. ambassador called "the one significant ghost" remaining from the Vietnam War.
Hundreds of researchers from the United States, Vietnam and other nations are attending the three-day meeting to exchange information on the effects of the wartime defoliant, which contained the highly toxic substance dioxin.
U.S. Ambassador Raymond Burghardt said the United States and communist Vietnam have successfully dealt with the issues of missing American soldiers and establishment of trade and diplomatic ties on the long road to reconciliation, and that the conference represents "one of the last tasks remaining to our countries."
"The one significant ghost remaining that we seek to confront is the issue of Agent Orange and dioxin," he said.
From 1962 to 1971, the U.S. Air Force sprayed an estimated 11 million gallons of defoliants, mainly Agent Orange, over Vietnam to destroy jungle cover for communist troops in a campaign known as Operation Ranch Hand.
American veterans and many Vietnamese have blamed a variety of illnesses, including birth defects, cancer and nervous disorders, on exposure to the defoliant.
Vietnamese Vice Minister of Health Le Ngoc Trong said he hopes the "costly and difficult" task of researching the effects of dioxin will be shared in the future by the United States, Vietnam, and the international community.
Vietnam's government says about 1 million Vietnamese are victims of Agent Orange, including veterans, civilians living in affected areas and their descendants. The U.S. government maintains there is no proven direct link between dioxin and many of those illnesses.
Mr. Burghardt said the issue has been "filled with controversy" and called the conference a fresh start.
"Today, we start with the free association of scientists, freely exchanging information, data and samples," he said.
Anne Sassaman of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Services said the aim of the conference is to exchange information on the health and environmental effects of Agent Orange, ways to reduce exposure.
Researchers said they will report on persistently high levels of cancer-causing dioxin in the blood of people living in heavily sprayed areas.
In a keynote addresses yesterday, professor Hoang Dinh Cau of Vietnam's Ministry of Health said studies have shown the existence of "hot spots" where children and grandchildren of people who were exposed exhibit serious congenital malformations.


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