Investigative documentary uncovers the lingering effects of toxic chemicals

Investigative documentary uncovers the lingering effects of toxic chemicals

The People vs. Agent Orange exposes the complicity of the US Government and multinational companies in the distribution of toxic chemicals

AS part of the Australian Global Health Film Festival, a PBS documentary ‘The People vs. Agent Orange’ was screened at Monash University.

The 10-day film festival takes place primarily in Australia featuring documentaries with a strong focus on planetary health, inequity, gender violence, and youth activism.

The School of Arts and Social Sciences of Monash University in partnership with the Australian Global Health Alliance presented the documentary last Friday in a special screening to mark the end of the festival.

The 90-minute documentary looks at the use of a toxic chemical popularly referred to as ‘Agent Orange’ during the Vietnam War and how it continues to affect the Vietnamese population today.

Through a military operation conducted by the US Air Force during the war, over 11 million gallons of the chemical was liberally sprayed over larges areas in Vietnam to defoliate dense vegetation.
However, early in the operation, side effects of the chemical begin to show on living organisms and humans.

Despite knowing the dangers of the chemical, their distributers, Dow Chemical and Monsanto (now part of the German Bayer Group), as well as the US government, exercised little to no due diligence in its usage.

Agent Orange, which contains a toxic compound called dioxin, has an estimated half-life of over 10 years. It causes irreparable damage to anything it comes into contact with.

It is among the deadliest chemical ever manufactured and has since been banned from use with all remaining stocks destroyed in 1978.

The chemical was also later adopted and put into commercial use by the Department of Agriculture to increase the efficiency of logging in parts of the Western United States.

The story unfolds through the perspective of French-Vietnamese activist Tran To Nga and American activist Carol Van Strum. They are joined in their quest for justice after being affected by the chemical.

Nga has been in a seven-year-long legal battle with the US government and the companies involved after her family was affected by Agent Orange.

In Oregon, Van Strum fights intimidation and threats by timber interests as she brings to light damning corporate documentation of the deadly impacts of the chemical 24D. It was widely used in her community, with no public consultation or warnings.

The in-person screening was held at the Plenary Theatre on the Monash University Malaysia campus in Sunway, featuring attendees such as journalists, students, and fellow lecturers both in and out of the university.

Organised by Dr Jonathan Driskell and Dr Azliyana Azhari of the School of Arts and Social Sciences, the screening was hosted by local documentary filmmaker Zan Azlee.

Zan facilitated the incredibly engaging Q&A session with directors Alan Adelson and Kate Taverna as well as special guest Van Strum via Zoom.

Both Adelson and Taverna are well-reputed as investigative reporters and filmmakers.

Driskell remarks that “the audience got a lot out of the film, and we had an interesting Q&A session – Adelson, Taverna and Van Strum shared their knowledge and insights about the history and use of Agent Orange and left us with some inspiring thoughts about documentary filmmaking and environmental activism.

“We were grateful and honoured that they were able to join us to discuss the film.”

More information about the festival can be found at https://www.globalhealthfilm.org/

source – The Vibes

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