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Federal appeals court urged to allow Agent Orange lawsuit

[JURIST] Lawyers representing approximately three million Vietnamese plaintiffs appealed the dismissal [PDF text; JURIST report] of their civil lawsuit to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] Monday. The plaintiffs argued that more than 30 American chemical companies should be held liable for billions of dollars in compensatory damages and environmental cleanup costs for producing and supplying defoliants like Agent Orange [VA backgrounder], which were sprayed in Vietnam during the war to destroy forest cover and render crops unusable. The plaintiffs argued that the companies were aware that defoliants, which often contained dioxin [NIH backgrounder; WHO backgrounder] - a known teratogen and suspected carcinogen, was harmful but continued to supply the approximately 18 million gallons used by the US military in Vietnam. The chemical companies argued that the defoliants were not intended to injure people and therefore not subject to prohibitions against the use of poisons in international rules of war. The defendants also said that a favorable ruling for the plaintiffs could hinder the United States' ability to wage war, citing the current use of depleted uranium [IAEA backgrounder] used by the US military in munitions and armor plating.

The 2005 district court ruling dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit on the grounds that dioxin could not be considered a banned poison under the international rules of war and that the plaintiffs failed to proved Agent Orange caused their injuries. In 1984, chemical manufacturers reached a private settlement with over 10,000 US war veterans. Reuters has more.

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