US spends additional $29M to remove dioxin from former Bien Hoa Airbase

By Minh Nga   December 20, 2022 | 04:00 am PT
US spends additional $29M to remove dioxin from former Bien Hoa Airbase
Cranes at trucks at the site to remove dioxin at Bien Hoa Airbase, January 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has hired a Vietnamese company to remove dioxin contamination from the former Bien Hoa Airbase, the most contaminated spot in Vietnam.

The agency signed a four-year contract worth $29 million on Tuesday with VINA E&C Investment and Construction JSC (VINA E&C).

Under the contract, VINA E&C, which is based in Ho Chi Minh City, will complete the excavation of contaminated soil on the airbase and prepare it for treatment.

"This contract will complete critical preparatory work, paving the way for the treatment phase of the project," Aler Grubbs, USAID's Vietnam Mission Director, said in a U.S. Embassy statement, adding that it is the largest contract yet by USAID to a local Vietnamese organization.

USAID is working with Vietnam's Ministry of National Defense to remediate approximately 500,000 cubic meters of dioxin-contaminated soil and sediment on and around Bien Hoa Airbase, the largest U.S. military base in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The base is now used for military training by the ministry.

USAID and the ministry co-launched the dioxin cleanup project at the airbase in Dong Nai Province, an hour’s drive from HCMC, in April 2019.

So far, the project has cleaned dioxin on an area of 5,300 square meters and removed 1,134 cubic meters of dioxin-contaminated sediment.

The two governments have agreed that some 515,000 cubic meters of soil on 52.24 hectares at the site is contaminated with dioxin, a deadly chemical used in the defoliant Agent Orange, which was employed by the United States military during the Vietnam War.

Cleaning it up is expected to take at least 10 years at an estimated cost of $450 million.

The U.S. government's contribution to-date is $163.25 million out of a total expected $300 million. The rest of the cost will be paid by Vietnam.

Between 1961 and 1971, the U.S. military sprayed some 80 million liters of Agent Orange, a compound of dioxins and dioxin-like mixtures, over 78,000 square kilometers (30,000 square miles) in southern Vietnam.

Dioxin stays in the soil and at the bottom of bodies of water for generations, entering the food chain through meat, fish and other animals. It has been found at alarmingly high levels in human breast milk.

Between 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals before the war ended in April 1975. These chemicals have been linked to cancers, birth defects and many chronic diseases.

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