Vietnam to spend $12mln preparing former US air base for dioxin cleanup campaign

By Phuoc Tuan   September 18, 2017 | 03:43 pm GMT+7
Vietnam to spend $12mln preparing former US air base for dioxin cleanup campaign
The area marked as dioxin contaminated at Bien Hoa Airport in Dong Nai Province. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan

Just outside Saigon, Bien Hoa Airport has the highest contamination levels of the deadly toxin in the world.

Vietnam’s government has launched a VND270 billion ($11.88 million) program to facilitate a massive dioxin cleanup campaign at Bien Hoa Airport that is scheduled to start this year.

The program will involve clearing ordnance left over from the war and constructing infrastructure to prepare for the cleanup at the former U.S. air base in Dong Nai Province, more than 30 kilometers (around 20 miles) from Saigon.

All the money will come from the state budget, officials said at the launch ceremony on Saturday.

The main cleanup campaign will use around $500 million in donations from the U.S. government and international partners.

“The U.S. is responsible for spraying dioxin over Vietnam, so we are hoping for cooperation from the U.S. government and people to fix its consequences,” said Nguyen Chi Vinh, vice minister of national defense, as cited by Tuoi Tre.

Studies have found that more than 500,000 cubic meters of land at the airport, which Vietnam uses for military purposes, needs treating.

Officials from Office 33, the national agency tasked with handling the consequences of toxic chemicals used by the U.S. during the Vietnam War, said at a meeting in 2012 that some spots at the airport had the highest levels of dioxin contamination in the world, at 1.18 million parts per trillion (ppt). Dioxin concentration at the air base ranges from 1,000ppt upwards, while 100ppt is considered high.

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.

America's first direct involvement in the cleanup efforts was an $84 million grant for a project at Da Nang International Airport in 2012.