UN announces Agent Orange clean-up for Vietnam

The United Nations announced a $5-million project on Monday to clean up wartime contamination in Vietnam caused by Agent Orange sprayed by the United States military, but said much more money was needed.

The project by the UN development agency will focus on contamination at the airport in Bien Hoa, near the fast-developing southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City. The UN’s resident coordinator, John Hendra, said it was the worst-affected site.

Experts have also identified two other former US air bases, at Danang and Phu Cat, as “hot spots” of dioxin contamination. Dioxin was a component of Agent Orange and other herbicides stored at the bases.

US aircraft sprayed the chemicals to strip trees of foliage during the Vietnam War in order to deprive communist Viet Cong forces of cover and food.

Vietnam blames the dioxin for a spate of birth deformities and it has also been linked to cancer.

“The concentration of dioxin in the three main hot spots is much higher than nationally and internationally agreed standards,” the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said in a statement.

“Without action, the hotspots will continue to contaminate the wider environment and pose a serious health risk to people living and working nearby.”

Cleaning up all three former air bases would cost an estimated $59-million, most of which still needs to be committed, said Koos Neefjes, an adviser on dioxin to the UN in Hanoi.

The Vietnamese government has already spent $5-million building a 4ha landfill that holds contaminants at Bien Hoa.

Under the new project, contaminated soil at smaller sites elsewhere at the airport will be destroyed using technology that has been used successfully elsewhere, although not with such high levels of dioxin, Neefjes told AFP.

The project is expected to last three or four years.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will carry out the project, funded by the UNDP along with the Global Environment Facility, an independent financial organisation.

Since 2007, the US Congress has appropriated $9-million to help the Vietnam clean-up and related health activities. At Vietnam’s request, the US is focusing help on the Danang site, where preparatory work has been under way and the actual clean-up is expected to begin next year. — AFP

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