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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 15 July, 2020

The US is helping to clean up Agent Orange residue, 50 years since the Vietnam War

The US is helping with a dioxin clean-up in Danang, where millions of litres of Agent Orange were stored during the war.

Napalm Girl An abiding image of the Vietnam War: Nine-year-old Kim Phuc, burned by napalm dropped accidentally by South Vietnamese air force. The damage caused by napalm was more immediate compared to the slow long-term havoc wreaked by Special Agent Orange. Source: AP/Press Association Images

VIETNAM AND THE United States have launched the second phase of a dioxin clean-up in Danang, where millions of litres of Agent Orange were stored during the war between the former enemies.

The US sprayed the defoliant over large swathes of southern jungle during the Vietnam War to denude the area of vegetation, allowing them to flush out Viet Cong guerrillas.

Vietnamese victims’ groups have long blamed the toxic residue for deformities and disease.

Vietnam’s government – which calls the conflict the American War – says that up to three million people have suffered illnesses and deformities, including the children of those exposed.

Though Washington has disputed the precise link between dioxin exposure and bad health, the US government has committed to help clean up toxic land in the communist nation.

The countries, whose relations have warmed in recent years, this week began treating 45,000 cubic metres of soil contaminated with dioxin at Danang Airport, a task expected colorto be finished by mid-2017.

“I am encouraged by how this project continues to be a symbol of our honesty about the past, dealing with what remains and turning an issue of contention into one of collaboration,” US ambassador Ted Osius said at the scene, according to a statement.

Vietnam Scientology Spread Nguyen Van Ho, 63, shows off his Vietnam War scar at the Health Center of the Vietnam Association of Agent Orange Victims in Thai Binh, Vietnam. Source: AP/Press Association Images


Agent Orange was sprayed by the US military as part of its herbicidal welfare programme Operation Ranch Hand, from 1961 to 1971.

The British were the first to use herbicides to covering vegetation, during their 1960s campaign a Communist insurgency in Malaya.

The first phase of the American-Vietnamese clean-up, which also treated 45,000 cubic metres, was completed in May.

“The long-term impact of the project will be the elimination of potential health risks associated with dioxin exposure from the site,” the US embassy statement said.

PA-8683456 US Air Force planes spray Agent Orange over dense vegetation in South Vietnam in 1966. Source: AP/PA Images

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Ranch Hand

Osius and Vietnam’s Vice Minister of National Defense Nguyen Chi Vinh switched on a thermal treatment system this week at a ceremony in Danang, where they were photographed before a giant mound of covered earth.

The thermal technology heats the contaminated soil to temperatures high enough to break down dioxin into harmless compounds.

Danang Airbase was a key site in the defoliant programme, and much of the 80 million litres (21 million gallons) of Agent Orange used during “Operation Ranch Hand” was mixed, stored and loaded onto planes there.

The airbase is considered a “dioxin hotspot”, where concentrations of toxic contaminants from Agent Orange are well above the globally-accepted maximum standard.

Victims groups say rates of cancer, birth deformities and other dioxin-related diseases are higher than the national average around the site.

The government says between three and four million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange, and at least 150,000 children were born with birth defects as a result.

- © AFP, 2016

Read: Stairway to Heaven: Central Vietnam on a motorbike

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