Vietnam to relocate 300 residents near US air base for dioxin cleanup

By Phuoc Tuan   February 16, 2019 | 09:32 pm PT
Vietnam to relocate 300 residents near US air base for dioxin cleanup
Work has been started in 2012 to decontaminate dioxin at Bien Hoa airport, a former American airbase in Vietnam's southern province of Dong Nai. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan
75 families living near the Bien Hoa military airport, former American airbase and dioxin hotspot, will be resettled for cleanup work.

Dong Nai Province, where the dioxin hotspot is located, is expected to implement the relocation plan involving 300 people this summer.

"We have got the resettlement area ready and will start moving local households in June," said Vo Van Chanh, the province’s deputy chairman.

The dioxin-infected land will be transferred to those in charge of the cleaning work early next year, he said.

Visiting the site Friday, Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich said Vietnam should call for more financial aid and boost the cleaning process.

Just 30 km (around 20 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City, Bien Hoa airport was a U.S. air force base during the Vietnam War (1955-1975).

The airport is believed to be the largest dioxin hotspot in Vietnam. Studies have found that more than 500,000 cubic meters of land at the airport, which Vietnam uses for military purposes, needs to be detoxified.

In 2012, with funding from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility, Vietnam implemented a project to prevent the spread of dioxin by building a regulating reservoir and canals and isolating an area of more than five hectares (12.4 acres) at the west side of the airport, with the amount of contaminated soil estimated at more than 70,000 cubic meters.

Then, in September 2016, the Vietnamese government launched a VND270 billion ($11.88 million) dioxin cleanup campaign at the airport.

The U.S. then announced its commitment to dioxin remediation efforts in the area, in anticipation of President Donald Trump’s state visit to Vietnam in November, 2017.

In May last year, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Air Defense – Air Force Service under the Vietnamese Defense Ministry signed an agreement for a $390-million project for dioxin remediation at the airport, including nonrefundable aid of $189 million from the U.S. government and counter capital from the Vietnamese government.

The campaign to decontaminate Bien Hoa is part of a bilateral cooperative effort that started in 2000 to resolve humanitarian and wartime legacies while continuing to strengthen economic, cultural and security ties.

Between 1961 and 1971, the U.S. Army sprayed some 80 million liters of Agent Orange over 78,000 square kilometers (30,000 square miles) of southern Vietnam.

Dioxin, a highly toxic chemical contained in the defoliant, stays in the soil and at the bottom of lakes and rivers for generations. It can enter the food chain through meat, fish and other animals, and 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 that have been linked to cancers, birth defects and other chronic diseases before the war ended in April 1975, according to the Vietnam Red Cross.

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