Vietnam will need at least five years and more than US$250 million to clean up dioxin at a Vietnam War airbase near Ho Chi Minh City, but lacks both the technology and money required, an official said Tuesday.
Le Ke Son, director of a national project for cleaning the chemicals left behind by the US, said more than 250,000 cubic meters of soil at the Bien Hoa military airbase is contaminated and some spots have the world's highest concentration at 1.18 million ppt (parts per trillion).
The airbase, around 30 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City in Dong Nai Province, is the largest of its kind in Vietnam and is severely polluted since it was occupied by the US Air Force.
Son said the dioxin concentration at the air base ranges from 1,000 ppt upwards while 100 ppt is considered high.
He said officials had initially estimated that only 75,000 cubic meters of soil was contaminated, but proper surveys found more affected spots.
“Given the complicated situation, we won’t be able to clean the airbase by 2020 as we do not have proper technology or money,” he said while speaking at a conference held by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Dong Nai.
The US stored a huge amount of dioxin including Agent Orange, Agent White, and Agent Blue at the airbase to use as defoliants and clear the forests used as natural cover by Vietnamese revolutionary forces.
Between 1969 and 1970, 2,500 liters of Agent White and 25,000 liters of Agent Orange leaked into the environment, including lakes, Son said.
Studies by the Ministry of Defense between 2000 to 2004 found the average dioxin concentration in the blood of people catching and eating fish from the lakes to be 2,000 ppt as against the World Health Organization’s safe limit of 10 ppt.
Officials at the conference said the airbase is one of the places with the most severe and longest lasting dioxin pollution in the world.
As a result, the chemical and biological methods used for cleaning dioxin in other countries have all failed at Bien Hoa, they said.
The ministry and UNDP have cooperated over the past years to install barriers to prevent the dioxin from spreading, but cleaning it is another challenge altogether.
Bakhodir Burkhanov, deputy country director of UNDP Vietnam, said the contaminated soil in Bien Hoa has characteristics and contents never seen elsewhere.
While waiting for an effective solution, officials have been placing nearly 100,000 cubic meters of polluted soil in Bien Hoa in a landfill, the same technique they used to successfully treat 7,500 cubic meters of soil at Phu Cat airbase in the south central province of Binh Dinh.
The Bien Hoa and Da Nang, and Phu Cat airports have been targets of a national dioxin clean-up program as the US stored the chemicals there during the war that ended in April 1975. Phu Cat was declared clean in August 2012.
Generations of families living in their vicinity have suffered devastating effects, including birth defects and cancer.
Between 1961 and 1971, the US army sprayed 80 million liters of Agent Orange containing 366 kilograms of dioxin over 76,800 square kilometers of southern Vietnam.
Between 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides during the war.