Photojournalist Hiroko Tanaka Sheds Light on the Effects of Agent Orange

Agent Orange was, for lack of a better term, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. A composite of Herbicide Orange and Agent LNX, the substance was widely used by U.S. troops during the Vietnam War to destroy trees, foliage, and other forest growth that often doubled as Viet Cong hiding spots.

Beginning in the early 60’s, the Department of Defense contracted a handful of chemical manufacturers (including the Monsanto Corporation) to produce mass quantities of Agent Orange. Roughly 20 million gallons of the substance were splashed all over Southeast Asia between 1962 and 1971 – a mass bombardment that came to be known as ‘Operation Ranch Hand’.

Today, doctors recognize that Agent Orange contains significant amounts of dioxin, a highly toxic chemical that has been linked to several different types of cancer. Vietnamese nationals, as well as American and Viet Cong soldiers, reported numerous afflictions and side effects that doctors now say were a direct result of exposure to Agent Orange.

Hiroko Tanaka was just a girl when news broke of the chemical’s deadly capabilities. She vividly recalls a news story that aired in her homeland of Japan, about a set of Vietnamese twins born with their heads conjoined; this deformity was ultimately blamed on their parents’ exposure to the chemical.

Ms. Tanaka would grow up to become a world-renowned photojournalist. During a trip home two years ago, she made a two-day stopover in Vietnam and visited the Peace Village ward at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tu Du Hospital. This wing of the hospital is home to more than 60 children with severe birth defects, many of whom were abandoned by their parents. The incredibly long half-life of Agent Orange – which doctors believe falls between seven and 11 years – is the reason why children from rural Vietnam are still affected.

“They just live there,” Ms. Tanaka told CNN. “They don’t go to school; they can’t leave; they don’t go out.”

Ms. Tanaka took photos of several children and subsequently published them on her official website. Her pictures depict small children who have been subjected to excruciating pain on a daily basis as a result of Agent Orange; please be warned the photos are upsetting.

“I want people to know they exist.”

Ms. Tanaka is a truly amazing photographer. Check out her official website for more photos from Guatemala, Cambodia, and other placed around the world. If you would like to help end human exposure to Agent Orange, please check out The Kianh FoundationAgent Orange Record, and other charity groups and nonprofit organizations working to improve global awareness of this important issue.