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VIETNAM: Vietnam to clean dioxin in hot spots

by Lao Dong, Translated by The VinhThanh Nien News
July 19th, 2006

Vietnam will carry out detoxification of dioxin in several “hot spots,” especially former US military bases that had stored chemical defoliants used during the Vietnam War, heard a conference last week.

The Vietnamese Defense Ministry would be in charge of the task, which would begin late this year, according to the conference on the consequences of US poisonous chemicals used during the war.

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 destroy food crops.

Those defoliants contained dioxin, an extremely stable carcinogen and toxic environmental pollutant.

Vietnamese scientist especially have pointed out three areas that have “high or very high” concentration of dioxin, all of them former US air bases – the Bien Hoa Airport in southern Vietnam, and the Danang and Phu Cat airports in central Vietnam.

The budget for detoxification of the Bien Hoa and Danang airports, which were contaminated more seriously, could reach some US$10 million each, according to the conference.

The government would pay for the mission in Bien Hoa and call for financial assistance for international organizations and governmental and non-governmental organizations in cleaning the environment of the other two spots.

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.

Vietnam says that between 1961 and 1971 the US military dropped more than 100,000 tons of toxic chemicals on southern Vietnam, exposing between 2.1 million and 4.8 million people many of whom, together with their progeny, suffer from a range of illnesses and birth defects.

According to a study presented at the conference, those exposed to dioxin were 14 times likelier to see birth defects in their children.

The study on 47,893 Vietnamese veterans and their families revealed that 2.95 percent of children and 2.69 percent of grandchildren of the veterans who had been exposed to dioxin suffered from birth defects.

Up to 16.14 percent of these children suffered from multiple disabilities, the study by the Vietnam Army Medical Institution also said.

The government has earmarked some VND23 billion ($1.43 million) on a birth consulting project for victims of Agent Orange/dioxin, according to the conference.

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.

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.

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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