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Vaughan Turekian, AAAS Chief International Officer, Named to Agent Orange Panel
Vaughan Turekian, chief international officer of AAAS, has been named to a high-level Vietnamese-U.S. dialogue group which is exploring issues related to use of herbicides such as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Turekian, a geochemist, will join the group during its next meeting in Vietnam in late January to visit sites of Agent Orange impact. He anticipates discussions on health and environmental topics with people who were exposed to the notorious herbicide in the later years of the war in Southeast Asia and to learn about potential areas where science and scientists might help.
Between 1961 and 1971, U.S. military forces sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides on Vietnamese lands, and exposure has been linked to an increased incidence of cancer, birth defects, and other medical problems. The Ford Foundation is funding the work of the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin to support a growing movement that seeks to resolve this remaining legacy of the war.
"This is part of a broader initiative by the Ford Foundation to identify and fund projects and programs that address health and environmental issues arising from use of herbicides," Turekian explained.
The dialogue group, convened by Ford Foundation President Susan V. Berresford, is in the first year of a two-year effort. It is chaired by Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute, and Ton Nu Thi Ninh, former vice chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly of Vietnam. Among other members are Christine Todd Whitman, the former governor of New Jersey and former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
There are five Vietnamese and five American representatives on the committee, and their task is to look for potential actions to address issues related to the wartime use of defoliants especially Agent Orange, and to raise the profile and awareness of Agent Orange impacts to a broader policy community. One of the problems facing Vietnam is that a chemical in Agent Orange, dioxin, "has a very long lifetime in biological settings," Turekian said. Dioxin is thought to have biological impacts, especially as a teratogen, a potential cause of birth defects.
"I'm the new member, and my task is to represent more broadly the scientific community" in the ongoing discussions, Turekian said. "For example, we need to identify what kinds of scientific methods and facilities the Vietnamese could use to monitor Agent Orange contamination issues, both in biological and geological environments.
"My first trip to Vietnam, in late January, will be to continue the dialogue and visit with people impacted by Agent Orange, and to visit some of the affected sites," he added.
At AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., Turekian's role is to lead, catalyze and coordinate the organization's international activities and engagements. Under his direction, AAAS has been working with Vietnamese officials to promote S&T cooperation between the two countries and to encourage sustainable urban development and improved science education there.
27 December 2007