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Vietnamese sue over Agent Orange

From David de Sola

Agent Orange

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- About 100 Vietnamese citizens have joined in a class-action lawsuit against more than 30 chemical companies, seeking compensation for exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The suit, originally filed by only three plaintiffs in a New York federal court on January 30, is the first time Vietnamese citizens have ever sought legal compensation for the use of the defoliant by U.S. forces during the conflict. The majority of the plaintiffs joined in the lawsuit over the past week.

As many as 2 million Vietnamese are thought to be suffering from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, according to Kenneth Herrmann, director of the Vietnam Program at the State University of New York at Brockport.

"The reality is that this lawsuit is long overdue, coming 20 years after Americans recognized that Agent Orange caused severe disabilities to many Americans who served in Vietnam," said Herrmann, a Vietnam veteran who is working as a consultant with plaintiffs in the case. "It's a matter of simple justice that we attempt to meet the needs of those who have lived in contaminated areas of Vietnam for nearly 30 years."

CNN tried to contact 10 of the more than 30 companies named in the case, but none could be reached for comment over the weekend.

Agent Orange was the most widely used herbicide during the war, sprayed over the Vietnam jungles between January of 1965 and April of 1970. It was used to destroy jungle vegetation that could be used as cover by the Viet Cong.

But the herbicide contained dioxin, a highly toxic chemical compound. Illnesses associated with exposure to Agent Orange include leukemia, Hodgkins and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, cancer, dermatological complications, and mental retardation, among others, according to veterans advocacy groups.

American veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War first filed a class-action lawsuit in 1979, which sought to represent 2.4 million veterans. In 1984, seven companies that manufactured Agent Orange agreed to pay $180 million in compensation to U.S. veterans or their next of kin.

More than 315,000 American Vietnam veterans have been examined by the Department of Veterans Affairs for effects of exposure to Agent Orange since 1978, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Plaintiffs in the Vietnamese lawsuit are not seeking a specified amount in damages.

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