Armed with photos of deformed babies, Vietnamese doctors said Wednesday that recent studies in Vietnam offer added evidence pointing to the herbicide Agent Orange as a cause of birth defects.
The findings were presented at an annual international symposium on the toxic chemical dioxin, the first time Vietnam has taken part. Four Vietnamese physicians are attending.
The studies were immediately challenged by other researchers at the conference here.
Dioxin, among the most toxic known substances, was a byproduct and the key contaminant in Agent Orange, used by U.S. forces in the 1960s and early 1970s in South Vietnam as a defoliant to eliminate jungle cover.
Range of Disorders
The Vietnamese, and thousands of American Vietnam veterans exposed during spraying operations, blame Agent Orange for a range of psychological and health disorders. The U.S. government maintains that no conclusive link has been shown.
Dr. Nguyen Thi Xiem, deputy director of Vietnam's National Institute for the Protection of Mothers and Newborns, said a study last year of a heavily sprayed district and an unsprayed area in southern Vietnam showed nearly twice as many babies born with so-called molar defects in the area where mothers were probably exposed to Agent Orange.
She displayed photographs of deformed babies, one with three misshapen heads and another with a large protrusion from the abdomen.
"In the exposed region, we have seen many strange birth defects," she said.
A 1983 study, she said, found higher rates of spontaneous abortions and birth defects in babies born to women in the south, as compared to the unsprayed north.
Although several European and American dioxin studies being presented at the conference tend to support a link between Agent Orange and health problems, others do not, reflecting the wide gap among scientists on the issue.