US starts Agent Orange clean-up in Vietnam after 40 years
But some say clean-up of deadly Vietnam War-era chemical is too little, too late
NEARLY 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, the US has launched a $43 million project to clean up Agent Orange, the chemical it sprayed across large tracts of the country.
Agent Orange was a code name for one of the defoliants - chemicals sprayed to cause leaves to drop off plants - used by the US. It contains dioxin, a toxin linked to birth defects, cancers and other diseases.
The US military started spraying Agent Orange over Vietnam's jungles in 1961 in an attempt to deprive the guerrilla fighters of their valuable cover and food sources. By the time the chemical assault had ended, nearly 21 million gallons had been dropped.
The big clean-up is to start at the Danang Airbase, one of the two dozen sites where Agent Orange was stored. The concentration of dioxin in the soil there is nearly 400 times the globally accepted maximum standard. Sediment will be excavated and then heated to destroy the dioxins.
The project has been welcomed in Vietnam, though for many the move has been too long coming. "It's a big step," said Ngo Quang Xuan, a former Vietnamese ambassador to the United Nations. "But in the eyes of those who suffered the consequences, it's not enough."
Vietnam says several million people have been affected by Agent Orange, the BBC reports, including 150,000 children born with defects.
Agent Orange also contaminated soldiers who deployed the chemical and in 1984, affected US military veterans received $180 million in compensation. In 2005 Vietnamese victims filed a similar suit, but it was dismissed two years later.
Despite the clean up project, none of the chemical companies who produced the defoliant have accepted responsibility. Dow Chemical, which produced Agent Orange, insists there is no clear link between the herbicide and the range of debilitating health problems reported.
However, those affected are sure where the blame lies. Luu Thi Thu, a resident of Danang whose son suffers from a rare blood disease that also killed her daughter, said: "If there hadn't been a war and Americans hadn't sprayed dioxin and chemicals into this area, we wouldn't be suffering these consequences."
And Phan Thi Phi Phi, a Vietnamese doctor, told the New York Times that during the war she worked in an area that was a target of American spraying. She had four miscarriages and nearly died. Agent Orange, she said, "destroys human life for many generations".
David Shear, the US Ambassador to Vietnam, said: "We're cleaning up this mess. We're also committed to people in Vietnam with disabilities - regardless of cause."