US Finally Begins Cleanup of Agent Orange in Vietnam
August 11, 2012 Voice of America & Associated Press
Nearly four decades after the conflict ended, the United States finally has begun cleaning up the contamination left from the herbicide Agent Orange. Millions of gallons were sprayed by US forces during the war. Exposure to the chemical has been linked with respiratory cancer, diabetes and several generations of Vietnamese children born with disfiguring and disabling birth defects.
US Begins Cleanup of Agent Orange in Vietnam Voice of America
DANANG, Vietnam (August 9, 2012) -- The United States has begun cleaning up the contamination left from the herbicide Agent Orange sprayed by US forces during the US-Vietnam War, nearly four decades after the conflict ended. Vietnamese and US officials launched a project Thursday to clean up deposits of the toxic chemical dioxin at a former US airbase in Danang where Agent Orange was stored and handled during the war.
The US dumped millions of liters of Agent Orange on Vietnam's thick jungles during the war to clear vegetation in search of Vietnam's communist forces. But in addition to destroying millions of acres of vegetation, the herbicide is also thought to have had unintended consequences. Exposure to the chemical has been linked with respiratory cancer, diabetes and birth defects.
US Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear said at a ceremony Thursday the joint cleanup project is a "landmark moment" that shows Hanoi and Washington are "taking the first steps to bury the legacies of our past."
The decontamination effort, which will last until 2016, involves testing and gathering about 73,000 cubic meters of affected soil and heating it to a high temperature to burn off leftover dioxin. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is overseeing the cleanup of Danang, which is the most seriously contaminated of the 28 locations where dioxin has been found.
Other former US airbases where Agent Orange was stored are expected to be cleaned up during the next decade.
DANANG, Vietnam (August 8, 2012) -- Vo Duoc fights back tears while sharing the news that broke his heart: A few days ago he received test results confirming he and 11 family members have elevated levels of dioxin lingering in their blood.
The family lives in a two-story house near a former US military base in Danang where the defoliant Agent Orange was stored during the Vietnam War, which ended nearly four decades ago. Duoc, 58, sells steel for a living and has diabetes, while his wife battles breast cancer and their daughter has remained childless after suffering repeated miscarriages.
For years, Duoc thought the ailments were unrelated, but after seeing the blood tests he now suspects his family unwittingly ingested dioxin from Agent Orange-contaminated fish, vegetables and well water.
Dioxin, a persistent chemical linked to cancer, birth defects and other disabilities, has seeped into Vietnam's soils and watersheds, creating a lasting war legacy that remains a thorny issue between the former foes. Washington has been slow to respond, but on Thursday the United States for the first time will begin cleaning up dioxin from Agent Orange that was stored at the former military base, now part of Danang's airport.
"It's better late than never that the US government is cleaning up the environment for our children," Duoc said in Danang, surrounded by family members sitting on plastic stools. "They have to do as much as possible and as quickly as possible."
The $43 million project begins as Vietnam and the United States forge closer ties to boost trade and counter China's rising influence in the disputed South China Sea.
Although the countries' economic and military ties are blossoming, progress on addressing the dioxin legacy has been slow. Washington still disputes a claim by Hanoi that between 3 million to 4 million Vietnamese were affected by toxic chemicals sprayed by US planes during the war to eliminate jungle cover for guerrilla fighters, arguing that the actual number is far lower and other environmental factors are to blame for the health issues.
That position irks Vietnamese, who say the United States maintains a double standard in acknowledging the consequences of Agent Orange.
The United States has given billions of dollars in disability payments to American servicemen who developed illnesses associated with dioxin after exposure to the defoliant during the Vietnam War.
Until a few years ago, Washington took a defensive position whenever Agent Orange was raised because no one had determined how much dioxin remained in Vietnam's soil and watersheds, and the United States worried about potential liabilities, said Susan Hammond, director of the War Legacies Project, a US nonprofit organization that mainly focuses on the Agent Orange legacy from the Vietnam War.
"There was a lot of the blame game going on, and it led nowhere," Hammond said by telephone from Vermont. "But now at least progress is being made."
Over the past five years, Congress has appropriated about $49 million for environmental remediation and about $11 million to help people living with disabilities in Vietnam regardless of cause. Experts have identified three former US air bases -- in Danang in central Vietnam and the southern locations of Bien Hoa and Phu Cat -- as hotspots where Agent Orange was mixed, stored and loaded onto planes.
The US military dumped some 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides on about a quarter of former South Vietnam between 1962 and 1971.
The defoliant decimated about 5 million acres of forest -- roughly the size of Massachusetts -- and another 500,000 acres of crops.
The war ended on April 30, 1975, when northern Communist forces seized control of Saigon, the US-backed former capital of South Vietnam.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.