Vietnam looks to UN for help in dioxin removal


U.S. planes spray the defoliant Agent Orange over southern Vietnam in 1966 (Photo: AP)

The United Nations Development Program is raising US$10 million to help Vietnam clean the environment of dioxin-polluted hotbeds, the Vietnam Association of Agent Orange Victims said Friday.
The plan had received positive response from several American and Swedish organizations, Tran Xuan Thu, the association’s Deputy President and General Secretary, said at a press briefing in Hanoi.
US forces used several toxic defoliants, mostly Agent Orange, in southern Vietnam during the war to deprive the Vietnamese liberation forces of forest cover and to destroy food crops.
The defoliants contained dioxin, an extremely stable carcinogen and toxic environmental pollutant.
Three US companies, namely Ford, Orion and Bem, were conducting research on dioxin detoxification measures for A Luoi district, a hotbed in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue, Thu said.
Research was also underway to help clean the environment surrounding three former US air bases, including the Da Nang Airport in the central province of Da Nang, Phu Cat Airport in the central province of Binh Dinh, and Bien Hoa Airport in the southern province of Dong Nai.
Vietnamese scientists also finalized a State-funded project on detoxifying these hotbeds, expected to be operational later this year through 2007.
Test carried out in Germany, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Canada and Russia on samples of soil from southern Vietnam showed that these areas had the highest concentration of dioxin in the world due to thick spraying by US army during the war.
Time and Vietnam’s tropical climate with high humidity levels have helped reduce the dioxin in the earth considerably.
However, former US military bases, such as the above-mentioned airports, still suffer very thick dioxin contamination, containing a level of hundreds of thousands of parts per trillion (ppt), concluded scientists.
Vietnam blames the US dioxin-contained defoliants for widespread health problems and birth defects, a claim backed by physicians and military veterans’ groups from several countries including the US.
US veterans who claim health disorders caused by Agent Orange won a victory in 1984 when chemical companies paid $180 million into a veterans’ fund without admitting any liability.
However, a New York court last year rejected a Vietnamese lawsuit against US chemical companies Monsanto and Dow Chemical who manufactured the herbicide during the war. The Vietnamese side has appealed.
In April visiting US Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Nicholson was pressed by Vietnamese journalists on why the US compensated its own veterans for health defects linked to the chemical, but not Vietnam’s.
In January this year, a Republic of Korea court ordered Dow Chemical and Monsanto, US manufacturers which had supplied the herbicide for the US army, to pay 6,800 Vietnam War veterans about $65 million.

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