Professor Neil Pearce
Agent Orange lessons relevant
to NZ dioxin difficulties
WELLINGTON Lessons learnt about the use of
Agent Orange in Vietnam will have direct relevance to the ongoing dioxin
debate in New Zealand, says the Director of Masseys Centre for Public
Professor Neil Pearce is the only Southern Hemisphere-based member of
the 14-seat Steering Committee for the Vietnam Environmental Conference,
to be convened in Stockholm next year. This conference will be the first
time the long-term environmental consequences of the war have been discussed
in an international forum. The Steering Committee includes leading scientists,
officials of non-governmental organisations and a Member of the Swedish
parliament. The countries represented include New Zealand, Vietnam, Sweden,
England, Canada and the United States.
Professor Pearce is also researching environmental and public health aspects
of production of pesticides contaminated with dioxin at New Plymouths
Ivon Watkins Dow plant in the 1970s. He has been a public commentator
on the recent Ministry for the Environments report on environmental
It should be remembered that the major constituent of Agent Orange
was 245-T, which was contaminated with dioxin and was manufactured by
Ivon Watkins Dow throughout the Vietnam War period for agricultural use
in New Zealand, says Professor Pearce.
This Vietnam Environmental Conference will bring together the worlds
leading researchers on chemical defoliants - and their effects on public
health and on ecosystems so Im sure these discussions in
Stockholm will have direct relevance to the dioxin debate in New Zealand.
Professor Pearce visited Vietnam in 1995 as a member of a committee of
inquiry sent by the United States Congress. This inquiry followed the
end of the American 20-year embargo on Vietnam and signalled a thaw in
relations between the two countries.
Because the embargo had restricted contacts with Vietnam, this was
one of the first times the subject had really been addressed by scientists.
We saw a lot of examples of cancers and deformities, but not much formal
research had been done that asked whether these problems were occurring
more often than was expected, and whether they were associated with dioxin
exposure, says Professor Pearce.
So I welcome this new initiative - the international scientific
community can now start helping the Vietnamese address these issues.
Professor Pearce says the conference is also timely because of public
concern about environmental dioxin exposure in New Zealand, and about
the health of New Zealands Vietnam veterans and the recent
acknowledgement of these concerns by the New Zealand Government. The committee
includes several specialists who have been tracking the health of veterans
in both Vietnam and the United States.
He believes that participation in the conference will also enable New
Zealand to acknowledge its involvement in the war, in turn strengthening
relations with Vietnam.
I believe that as participants in the Vietnam War we have an ongoing
responsibility to see what the long term effects of spraying Agent Orange
have been in Vietnam, and what can be done about it.