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Vietnam, US to combat Agent Orange

DA NANG, Vietnam -- Work to clean Agent Orange-contaminated soil began at Da Nang city airport Saturday as the U.S. and Vietnamese governments pushed on with efforts to undo the damage caused by a herbicide deployed by U.S. forces during the Vietnam war.

The US$84 million project at Da Nang city airport — where the herbicide was once stored — in central Vietnam was launched in 2012, and will last until 2016.

“We built a containment structure roughly the size of a football field and filled it with 45,000 cubic meters of dioxin-contaminated soil,” U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear said at the ceremony.

“Beginning today, the contaminated soil will be heated to extremely high temperatures to destroy dioxin.”

Around 12 million gallons of the herbicide were sprayed by the U.S. military in the 1960s and 1970s to destroy jungle cover for the Viet Cong. Its unintended — but highly toxic — byproduct, dioxin, has been linked to diseases such as diabetes, cancer and birth defects.

Dioxin is not water-soluble and does not degrade easily. It can attach to fine soil particles or sediment and get carried by water run-off into the sediment of lakes or streams. It is consumed by mollusks, fish and waterfowl, easily entering the human food chain.

Vietnam claims at least 3 million people have birth defects because of Agent Orange.

While Washington provides funding to help people with disabilities regardless of cause, it has never admitted liability for health problems caused by dioxin.

Da Nang airport is one of 28 dioxin “hotspots” in Vietnam. An environmental assessment is currently being carried out at Bien Hoa, another former air base used to store the herbicide.

Tran xuan Thu, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange told dpa via telephone that it is the American government's job to clean up dioxin.

“I'm not saying that Vietnam cannot clean up other hot spots,” he said. “The U.S. caused it (dioxin contamination) in the first place, so it is their responsibility.”

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