News / USA

    US Begins Historic Clean Up of Agent Orange in Vietnam

    A woman walks next to a highly contaminated pond around the grounds of the Danang airbase in Danang, Vietnam, May 21, 2007
    A woman walks next to a highly contaminated pond around the grounds of the Danang airbase in Danang, Vietnam, May 21, 2007
    Daniel Schearf
    BANGKOK — The United States next week in Vietnam will begin cleaning up leftover deposits of the toxic chemical dioxin from the herbicide Agent Orange sprayed by U.S. forces on vegetation during the Vietnam War.  The toxin was found at former U.S. air bases and has been linked to disease and birth defects. On the significance of the cleanup and the health consequences of dioxin still felt in Vietnam today.
     
    Environment decontamination

    Vietnamese and U.S. officials on Thursday are launching a project to clean up a contaminated former American airbase at Da Nang.
     
    The Vietnam War-era base was one of many used to store Agent Orange, an herbicide with an unintended but highly toxic byproduct, dioxin.  
     
    During the Vietnam War U.S. air forces sprayed millions of liters of Agent Orange to clear vegetation in search of Vietnam’s communist forces.
     
    The defoliant killed off millions of acres of vegetation and has been linked to diseases such as diabetes, cancer and birth defects.
     
    But, due to doubts about scientific evidence, and concerns about liability and diplomatic relations, efforts to clean up the toxin have been slow.  
     
    Charles Bailey is director of the Agent Orange in Vietnam Program at the Aspen Institute, a co-chair of the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange.  He says the clean-up marks a historic turning point and both governments deserve credit.

    Daniel Schearf interviews Charles Bailey


    “Because, they’ve both come a long way from being, you know, unable to agree on most aspects of this subject to a point where they have successfully over a number of years done all the technical work to get to this point of saying ‘ok, here’s how we’re going to destroy it once and for all,” said Bailey.
     
    Exposure to Agent Orange

    The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, is overseeing the clean up at Da Nang, the most toxic of 28 dioxin “hot spots” in Vietnam.
     
    The decontamination will involve testing and gathering affected soil and heating it to high temperature to burn off leftover dioxin. 
     
    Da Nang is still a working airport so the four-year, $43 million, project has to be carried out carefully.
     
    Other former air bases are expected to be cleaned-up within the next decade, erasing the most toxic traces of dioxin.  
     
    But, Bailey says even after decontamination the larger problem is helping people and their descendants whose health problems are associated with Agent Orange.
     
    “For them, particularly for children and young adults who’ve been born with disabilities, the effort, the focus, has been on programs that will enable them to live lives of greater comfort and dignity and to achieve what they are capable of, and to assist their families,” Bailey stated.
     

    Vietnam says at least three million people living near the bases were exposed to Agent Orange and show higher incidents of disease and birth defects.
     
    Families suffering from disabilities show a higher rate of poverty as health care expenses go up and family income goes down.  
     
    The U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin estimates $450 million is needed to completely eliminate dioxin “hot spots” and provide care, education, and economic opportunities to those affected.
     
    So far, about $100 million has been raised from American foundations, United Nations agencies, and governments including the United States.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Chris from: Fl
    August 08, 2012 9:47 AM
    First, 'Dioxin' is not one particular chemical....dioxin is the term for any cancer causing agent, and AO had 52 different dioxins in it.
    2nd...Dwight....it used to be only non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and Spina Bifida were the only compensable illnesses the VA considered caused by AO......about 10 years ago, they changed all that and now consider ANY cancer of the respiratory system to be presumptively caused by AO....all the proof that is needed is that the claimant was actually in SVN.

    by: Mark from: Japan
    August 05, 2012 6:54 PM
    I just returned from a week trip to Hanoi. A lovely country; lovely people.... The cost of war in blood is tragic in itself. The cost of treasure can last for decades or longer. Not sure why nations do not learn that in war nobody wins....

    by: Dwight Hedrick from: North Carolina
    August 03, 2012 4:35 PM
    I have just become aware of the situation still going on in
    Cambodia and VN concerning AO.
    Personally, I have just won my award for disabilities from
    AO.... at least, some token for its affect on my like. Still
    not accepted is my bought with cancer and the loss of my
    third child who was born with no lungs and tumors through
    out her body.... and not accepted as an AO cause, only
    spinal bifida is at this point. I am curious about those children
    still being affected and what the defects are. Nothing can
    redo my situation at this point.....however, I never hear how
    Dow Chemical has any accountability in this fiasco. It has
    also come to my attention that DC still produces a derivative
    of AO and peddles it to this day. Just the knowledge is
    perplexing to me. Does anybody care...???
    In Response

    by: Bob from: TN
    August 04, 2012 11:30 AM
    The fact some forms of Agent orange is still produced is not the issue, the agent orange itself in fact was not the problem. it had been used domestically since the 40's without a problem. the bastards at monsanto, are the real reason for what happen.

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