Thursday, April 11, 2013

Agent Orange: Controversial Remedy for a Lingering Toxin

By Brittany Ryan

Agent Orange, named after the orange stripped barrels the chemicals were transported in, is a toxic defoliant that United States military sprayed over Vietnam vegetation as a war tactic. Between 1961 and 1971, twenty million gallons of the herbicide was unloaded onto jungles to clear the green and unveil North Vietnamese troops, but the aftermath of Agent Orange continues to linger today.

Manufactured by Monsanto Corporation, Dow Chemical, and other chemical companies, the formula unknowingly contained one of the most toxic chemicals in science, dioxin. This destructive component is linked to a series of health effects such as cancer, reproductive, developmental, and hormonal problems, as well as damage to the immune system. Combined with the several other compounds blended into the defoliant, the toxicity of Agent Orange is potent.

Decades after use, thousands of veterans suffer from various health problems believed to be caused by exposure to the chemical. Some suggest that the number of veterans burdened by some ailment from Agent Orange far exceeds the hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers killed or wounded in combat during the Vietnam War. Illnesses thought to be related to the exposure of Agent Orange include numerous strands of cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and neuropathy.

While U.S. veterans are filing disability claims to the Department of Veterans Affairs to address their Agent Orange related ailments, a controversial treatment promoted by the Church of Scientology is a method some Vietnamese veterans are taking into consideration. A treatment center in Thai Binh, Vietnam, established by a Scientology-funded organization focuses on health treatment programs. The “Purification Rundown” is a treatment that entails a 25-day regime of high consumption of assorted vitamins, four-hour sauna sessions and morning runs. Advocates believe the routine helps sweat out and burn the body fat that the toxins are stored in.

With no peer-reviewed studies to back up the health benefit claims, the advocacy group and the Church of Scientology have faced much criticism about the treatment. Moreover, some investigations have been performed after implementations of the treatment program in various rehabilitation centers. In Russia in 1991, for example, “Rundown” treatments were offered to those suffering from the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, and despite the church highlighting successes, Russia eventually placed a country-wide ban on the treatment.

Aside from these instances and medical experts questioning the high dosages of vitamins like niacin, the Thai Binh group is looking to expand the center and has already enrolled 600 people through the course. Patients have reported an enriched quality of life overall, with improvements in sleeping patters and appetite. Members of the Vietnam Association in Thai Binh, although unsure of the effectiveness of the treatment and the science behind it, witness success stories and support the patients’ use of the treatment.

Despite the unknown long-term status of previous patients, as the center cannot afford to monitor post-treated individuals, many claim that the simple reduction in persistent symptoms seems worthwhile for those suffering for decades from Agent Orange-induced ailments.

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