US, Vietnam begin dioxin decontamination in Da Nang

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US Senator Patrick Leahy (L) met with Vietnamese defense minister Phung Quang Thanh during his Vietnam visit from April 16-20. Photo courtesy of the US Embassy in Vietnam
Decontaminating the Danang Airport will bury the consequences of the past and pave a road toward a good future between the US and Vietnam, Vietnam's Deputy Minister of Defense Nguyen Chi Vinh said Saturday.
Vinh was speaking as a team of US scientists began the process of using heat to remove the toxic defoliant, dioxin, from the contaminated soil of the former US airbase.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) says that about 45,000 of the airport's 73,000 cubic meters (2.58 million cubic feet) of soil have been excavated for thermal treatment at 335 degrees Celsius (570 degrees Fahrenheit).
The US$84-million project, funded by USAID, is expected to finish in late 2016.
US Senator Patrick Leahy, who attended the ceremony at Da Nang Airport during his Vietnam visit from April 16-20, said the US has been working to eliminate the danger dioxin poses to the people of Danang.
“After so many years, the United States did not ignore this problem. We returned and we are taking care of it… our two countries can work together to address a problem that for more than three decades was an obstacle to better relations,” he said.
Leahy said the US government also has a goal of improving services for “people with disabilities, regardless of the cause, including which those may have been caused by Agent Orange.
“This project is impressive in size and technological complexity, but even more important is what it says about our ability to work together to address the legacy of a war that caused so much suffering for both countries.”
Leahy led a US Congressional delegation to visit Vietnam and discuss war legacy issues, trade relations and regional security matters.
Leahy first visited Vietnam in 1996 to address the needs of victims of land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) that continue to kill and injure civilians.
Between 1961 and 1971, the US Army sprayed some 80 million liters of Agent Orange containing 366 kilograms of the highly toxic dioxin over 30,000 square miles of southern Vietnam.
US troops used the toxic defoliant to deny Vietnamese forces ground cover and food. The substance has persisted in the soil and sediment of lakes and rivers for generations. Independent researchers have found that it can enter the food supply through the fat of fish and other animals. 
Alarmingly high levels of dioxin have been discovered in breast milk samples collected in Vietnam's afflicted areas.
Between 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese citizens were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals that have been linked to cancers, birth defects and other chronic diseases during the Vietnam War, which ended in April 1975, according to the Vietnam Red Cross.

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