News / Asia

US, Vietnam Launch Agent Orange Cleanup

A warning sign stands in a field contaminated with dioxin near Danang airport, during a ceremony marking the start of a cleanup project at a former U.S. military base in Danang, Vietnam, August 9, 2012.
A warning sign stands in a field contaminated with dioxin near Danang airport, during a ceremony marking the start of a cleanup project at a former U.S. military base in Danang, Vietnam, August 9, 2012.
Marianne Brown
HANOI — The United States and Vietnam’s defense ministry have launched the first cleanup operation to rid a former air base of a toxic dioxin left from the Vietnam war. Although many people have welcomed the move, some say it is too little, too late to help generations of people suffering birth defects and diseases linked to the chemical.

The project, which started Thursday, aims to clean up soil and sediment contaminated with dangerous levels of toxin dioxin at a former U.S. Army air base in central Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, Da Nang airport was used to store the herbicide "Agent Orange" which was sprayed on vegetation used as cover by guerrilla forces.

Facts About Agent Orange

  • Blend of herbicides US military used in Vietnam between 1962 - 1971
  • Millions of liters sprayed to destroy enemy cover
  • Dioxin TCDD was a byproduct of Agent Orange production and is classified as a human carcinogen
  • Dries quickly after spraying
  • Breaks down within hours, days, (if not bound to soil) when exposed to sunlight and is no longer harmful
  • Name derived from orange stripe on drums in which chemical was stored

Source: US Department of Veterans Affairs
The toxin, which has been linked to disease and birth defects, has remained a dark reminder of the war. U.S. Ambassador David Shear spoke at the opening ceremony in Da Nang.

"The dioxin in the ground here is a legacy of the painful past we share, but the project we undertake here today hand in hand with the Vietnamese is, as Secretary Clinton said, a sign of the hopeful future we are building together," he stated.

Da Nang is the most toxic of 28 dioxin “hot spots” in Vietnam. The $43 million project will excavate and clean up 73,000 cubic meters of soil and sediment around the airport. The U.S. embassy said the soil should be safe for use by 2016.

"This process uses high temperatures to break down the dioxin in the contaminated soil and make it safe by Vietnamese and U.S. standards for the many men, women and children who live and work in this area," said Shear.

Some have hailed the project as a historic turning point for both governments after years of wrangling over the issue.

The defoliant killed off millions of acres of vegetation and has been linked to diseases such as diabetes, cancer and birth defects. However, Washington has not admitted liability for health problems caused by the chemical.

Over the last 13 years, the U.S. has provided $54 million to help disabled people in Vietnam, but not specifically to problems linked to Agent Orange.

Mai The Chinh, head of the information board for the Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, known as VAVA, says he thinks Washington has not done enough.

He says it has taken too long for the U.S. to clean up the area and they have not given any money to support health care for dioxin victims.  

He says at least three million people have birth defects because of Agent Orange, including at least 300,000 children.

Several orphanages across the country make a special point of taking in children believed to be affected by Agent Orange.

Images abound of babies at these centers with deformed heads looking through the bars of their cots and toddlers with twisted limbs being fed rice gruel.

Thanh Xuan Peace Village, just outside Hanoi, houses hundreds of these children. Director Nguyen Thi Thanh Phuong, says funding is difficult, especially during times of economic crisis.

She says the life of children affected by Agent Orange is more difficult than most, so they are in desperate need of support.

She says she thinks the United States has not done enough to help rid Vietnam of dioxin contamination because the poison continues to affect people three generations after the war ended and there are other hotspots in the country besides Da Nang.

However, she says the center has received help from some unlikely sources. Some American veterans have returned to Vietnam to support the Peace Village and made generous donations. Some were themselves exposed to the herbicide and their own children have been born with deformities.

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. It may be nearly 40 years since the end of the conflict.  Some observers say the cleanup project in Da Nang is a small but crucial step in helping heal the scars of war.

You May Like

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Faminei
X
Daniel Schearf
November 23, 2014 4:32 PM
During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video Law Enforcement, Activists in Ferguson Agree to Keep Peace

Authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, say they have agreed with protest leaders to maintain peace when a grand jury reaches its decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a black teenager. Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, has been the scene of intermittent violence since the August 9 shooting intensified long-simmering antagonism between the police and the African-American community. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid