Web Date: February 28, 2008
Appeals Court Dismisses Agent Orange Suits
Unanimous decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, upheld the dismissal of suits by a group of Vietnam War veterans who wanted compensation for injuries they believe are caused by agent orange exposure during the war and by Vietnamese citizens who want the companies to compensate them for their health problems thought to be caused by the U.S. government's use of agent orange in their country.
The veterans' cases were dismissed because the court ruled that independent contractors for the government—in this case, the companies that made agent orange—can be protected from tort liability associated with their performance of their contracts. The appellate court also supported the lower court decision that these veterans, who did not participate in a $180 million settlement over agent orange health issues in 1984, were not eligible for compensation from that fund because that settlement had expired.
The Vietnam citizens' claim for compensation is based on local data showing that many of them have ailments associated with the use of agent orange, including miscarriages, birth defects, breast cancer, lung cancer, and Hodgkin's disease. They want the companies to pay for health care and for environmental cleanup in Vietnam. The court ruling says the companies cannot be held liable for these problems under international law because the herbicide was used to defoliate trees and not used as poison against human populations.
More than a dozen chemical companies were defendants in the cases, including Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Occidental Chemical, Thompson-Hayward Chemical, Harcros Chemicals, and Uniroyal Chemicals. Agent orange was used as a defoliant in Vietnam in the 1960s and contained low parts-per-million levels of the highly toxic 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, which is believed to have caused the illnesses.
- Chemical & Engineering News
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