Vietnam Fieldwork 2017: Agent Orange/Dioxin and current Public Health Issues in the Central part of Vietnam

Filed in 2016, 2016, Courses, Fieldwork & Internship, News by on December 12, 2016


Host  Keio (Japan)
Main Instructor  Prof. Michio Umegaki & Vu Le Thao Chi, Ph.D. (Keio University)
Period March 7-16, 2017
Locations Phu Cat District- Binh Dinh province
Targets  Undergrads + graduate students from Keio University

Fieldwork Content:

The theme of the fieldwork is “Agent Orange/Dioxin and current Public Health Issues in the Central part of Vietnam”. The fieldwork approaches the issue of Agent Orange/Dioxin in Vietnam from two perspectives: public health and environment.

About Agent Orange and its implications

The substance, Agent Orange, is dioxin-yielding chemical compounds. A 50-50 mixture of powerful phenoxy herbicides 2,4,-D and 2,4,5-T, Agent Orange was found to contain the most toxic chemical known to men, 2,3,7,8-T (Tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin, or TCDD). During the Vietnam War, the US, under the code name, Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed 21million gallon of herbicide between 1962 and 1972, which is estimated to have yielded 170 kg of dioxin. However, as later found out, the adjusted estimate of the dioxin emitted in Vietnam (including dioxin produced from stored and abandoned herbicides) is believed to be over 600kg (including dioxin produced from stored and abandoned herbicides).

The damage in the environment and humans was extensive. Destruction of tropical forest in the mountains alone could trigger a chain of damages beyond the spots of spraying (contaminating soil surface, water sources and as a result food chains). The extent to which the contamination affected people can be immense. Everyone in the sprayed area (then and now) could be affected. According to an official of Veterans Administration in 1979, it was “theoretically possible that about 4.2 million American soldiers could have made transient or significant contact with the herbicides because of the Ranch Hand Operation”. To the Vietnamese side, there are about 2.1 ~ 4.8 million known Agent Orange victims, according to the latest study by Columbia University Public Health group (Jeanne M. Stellman, et. al. 2003).

Regarding the cause-effect relationship between the exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides and health hazard, American researchers conclude “with a very high degree of confidence,” that the exposure induced a wide range of often terminal and/or debilitating ailments such as prostate and other kinds of cancer, Hodgkin’s disease or multiple myeloma, or spina bififa often found among the second generation children of the Vietnam War veterans.  These are also found among the second and third generations of Vietnamese residents in the sprayed areas as well as the war veterans.

 About Phu Cat Area-  Phu Cat District is part of Binh Dinh province, a beautiful beach area situated in the Central part of Vietnam. It is a large rural and agricultural area embracing both Nui Ba mountain range and a strategic Phu Cat Airport. Both were the targets of heavy herbicide sprayings during the War. Until today, a large amount of dioxin residue still stays in the living environment. The majority of the victims in this area are civilians or former local militia or du kich. They were directly exposed to the spraying of Agent Orange, and/or indirectly to Agent Orange-contaminated rivers and well-water and/or through food chain. The estimated number of Agent Orange victims is 1,865 (2006) (the total population of Phu Cat is 194,000).

One point to note is that the majority of the residents in Phu Cat largy rely on agriculture activities for their living including– rice, cassava, peanuts and recently commercial products like cashew nuts. In addition to the direct contact with the contaminated environment not only during the war but also after the war (the dioxin residue, these farmers also have come in contact with different types of agro-chemicals including herbicides and pesticides and many have witnessed as well as experienced some side-effects of various kinds.

Purposes of Fieldwork: The Agent Orange/Dioxin Issue implies a much larger number of different issues in the areas of Environment and Public Health: its impacts on the environment; the health issue of AO victims; the issue of disaster management; the relevance of history towards current issues; and community building in disaster management, to name a few. Therefore, the fieldwork is not strictly exclusive to students of any discipline. Students are welcome aboard to approach Agent Orange induced issues observed at the local level issue from their own expertise. Inter-disciplinary discussions between students are expected to follow to redefine the problems before attempting “what we can do”, not only at the local level but where else similar problems are raging.

 Tentative Schedule (Subject to changes)

Dates Places Activities
3月7日 Leave Tokyo for Ho Chi Minh   Free time in Ho Chi Minh
3月8日 Leave HCM for Phu Cat District Visit AO families
Group Meeting
3月9日 Phu Cat District Meet with Red Cross
Lecture by Dr. Dat on Public Health Issues
Visit AO families
Group Meeting
3月10日 Cat Thanh Commune Lecture by Dr. Dat on Public Health Issues
Visit AO families
Group Meeting
3月11日 Cat Thanh Commune Attend Dream Class 2
Visit AO families
Group Meeting
3月12日 Cat Trinh Commune Attend Dream Class 1
Visit AO families
Group Meeting
3月13日 Cat Trinh Commune Visit AO families
Group Meeting
Final Presentation
3月14日 Leave Phu Cat for Ho Chi Minh Meet with Book Publisher
Free time
3月15日 Ho Chi Minh City Book Launch Event
Free time
3月16日 Leave Ho Chi Minh  

Recruitment Targets: Students from Umegaki Laboratory 

Credit Earning: Participants can earn 2 credits for “Research Project A” in the Spring Semester 2017.

How to Apply: 

  • Fill out APPLICATION FORM (downloadable at :
  • Write an 300-word essay stating your interest in the theme of the fieldwork (either in English or Japanese

You need to submit these documents to by 2017 January 27th (Tuesday), 23:59 with subject “Vietnam Fieldwork 2017 Application- Your Name”

 Participation fee: Keio students should pay the airplane ticket fee on your own.  EBA committee will collect a participation fee to cover your travel insurance, accommodation, transporation at the field, part of food fees and others. The fee is to be announced.

 Contact Information

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