Vietnam, US in Cleanup Work

A chemical defoliant used in the war has sickened thousands, Hanoi says.

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A man takes a picture of a dioxin-contaminated lake next to Danang airport, Aug. 9, 2012.

More than 35 years after the end of the Vietnam War, Washington and Hanoi launched a joint project Thursday to clean up remnants of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange sprayed over Vietnamese forests by U.S. forces to deprive enemy fighters of cover.

Agent Orange contains the chemical dioxin, which has been linked to cases of cancer and birth defects suffered by Vietnamese civilians exposed to the toxin.

Speaking on Thursday at the project launch near the former U.S. air base at Danang, one of three heavily dioxin-contaminated sites in Vietnam, U.S. Ambassador David Shear hailed the project as an “historic milestone” in bilateral relations.

“Today’s ceremony marks the start of a project between Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, to clean up dioxin-contaminated soil and sediment at the airport left from the Vietnam War,” Shear said.

“We have worked together closely over many years in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation to reach this point,” he said.

The former U.S. air base at Danang, where Agent Orange was mixed, stored, and loaded onto planes, has been closed to the public for the past five years, and a contaminated lake at the site has been walled off from area residents so that people no longer swim or fish there.

Birth defects

The Vietnamese government says that up to three million of the country’s people have been exposed to Agent Orange, with at least 150,000 children born with birth defects.

Vietnam and the United States  normalized relations in 1995 following years of war and diplomatic isolation, and now  enjoy growing trade ties and share concerns over Chinese assertions of sovereignty over the oil-and-resource-rich South China Sea.

As the U.S. $43 million project begun with Vietnam proceeds over the next four years, “workers will dig up the contaminated soil and sediment [left at Danang] and place it in a stockpile,” Shear said in his speech.

There, the contaminated soil will be subjected to a process using high temperatures to break down the dioxin, Shear said.

This will make the soil “safe by Vietnamese and U.S. standards for the many men, women, and children who live and work in this area,” he said, adding, “there’s a lot of expertise present here today to make sure this job gets done right.”

“By the end of September, USAID will have started a new health and disability program to support people with disabilities, regardless of cause, in Danang and other locations,” Shear said.

Reported by Richard Finney.


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