US, Vietnam launch Agent Orange clean-up – World – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Clipped from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-10/us-launches-agent-orange-clean-up/4189586?section=world
Updated August 10, 2012 07:25:55
During the Vietnam War the US sprayed the defoliant on jungles to deprive the enemy of cover and destroy supplies.The United States has begun its first clean-up in Vietnam of the toxic chemical Agent Orange, decades after the war ended.
The chemical, which has been linked to cancer and birth defects, is a legacy of the war for families near Vietnam’s Danang Airbase.
The base was a key site in the US defoliant program during the war, and much of the 80 million litres of Agent Orange used during Operation Ranch Hand was mixed, stored and loaded onto planes there.
On Thursday, the US and Vietnam began a long-awaited joint clean-up effort at the site – using technology which will heat the contaminated soil to temperatures high enough to break dioxin down into harmless compounds.
During the war, when we lived right by the runway, some nights we would have to cover our mouths because of a strange smell.Danang resident Nguyen Thi Binh
The defoliants were sprayed over vast swathes of jungle in South Vietnam in an attempt to flush out Viet Cong communist guerrillas by depriving them of tree cover and food.
"During the war, when we lived right by the runway, some nights we would have to cover our mouths because of a strange smell," Danang resident Nguyen Thi Binh, 78, said.
Three of Binh’s five children are severely mentally and physically disabled. For years she thought this was due to sins committed in a past life, but now believes it could be due to her and her late husband’s dioxin exposure.
"I heard it might be Agent Orange," she said in her tiny house in Danang city as her adult daughters crawled around her like infants.
The US still disputes the "uncertain" link between dioxin exposure and ill health.
‘Cleaning up the mess’
Photo: Suspected Agent Orange victim Nguyen Thi Hong Van and her mother Nguyen Thi Luu at their home. (AFP: Hoang Dinh Nam)
Speaking at the launch ceremony for the decontamination operation, US ambassador David Shear described it as a "historic milestone".
"We’re cleaning up this mess," he said, adding the US would in future undertake an environmental assessment of another hotspot, the Bien Hoa airbase.
"We’re also committed to people in Vietnam with disabilities, regardless of cause."
The $US43 million project comes as the former foes draw closer in the face of rising Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.
The Danang Airbase is one of three "dioxin hotspots" – alongside Bien Hoa and Phu Cat airbases – where concentrations of extremely toxic contaminants from Agent Orange are nearly 400 times the globally accepted maximum standard.
We’re cleaning up this mess… we’re also committed to people in Vietnam with disabilities, regardless of cause.US ambassador David Shear
Until five years ago, when the area was finally sealed off, Danang residents such as Binh fished, bathed and harvested lotus plants from the Sen Lake – and ate local fish with more than three times the safe level of dioxin.
As a result, victims groups say, rates of cancer, birth deformities and other dioxin-related diseases are higher than the national average in the area – and the health threat lingers.
"In hotspots like Danang Airbase we are still finding very young people who are affected by (Agent Orange related) diseases," said Nguyen Van Rinh, chairman of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA).
"The government doesn’t have the capacity to move them out of contaminated areas," the retired general said.
Vietnam says up to three million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, and that one million suffer grave health repercussions today, including at least 150,000 children born with birth defects.
An attempt by Vietnamese victims to obtain compensation from the United States had little success, and the US Supreme Court in 2009 declined to take up the case.
American veterans have received billions of dollars for diseases linked to Agent Orange but neither the US government nor the chemical manufacturers ever admitted liability.
The eventual price tag for cleaning all the country’s hotspots and supporting victims could run to $450 million, according to some estimates.
Photo: A heavily dioxin-contaminated area at Danang airport, a former US airbase. (AFP: Hoang Dinh Nam)
Topics: world-politics, government-and-politics, vietnam, united-states, asia
First posted August 10, 2012 07:21:19