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Vietnam, US finish first part of dioxin cleanup at Bien Hoa airbase

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American and Vietnamese personnel have removed dioxin from an area of 5,300 square meters at Bien Hoa airport, the most contaminated spot in Vietnam.

The remediation work which began in December 2019 removed 1,134 cubic meters of dioxin-contaminated sediments from Gate 2 Lake within the airport in Dong Nai Province, an hour’s drive from HCMC.

Bien Hoa airport was the largest U.S. military base in Vietnam during the war and is now used for military training.

The remediated area will be handed over to local authorities in the next few days.

At an event held at the airport on Wednesday to announce the results of one year of work, the Air Defense Air Force Command signed an agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to hand over an area of 7.2 hectares at the airbase for the latter to decontaminate over the next two years.

The two nations’ governments have agreed that some 515,000 cubic meters of soil on 52.24 hectares at the airport is contaminated with dioxin, a deadly chemical used in the defoliant Agent Orange by the U.S.

Cleaning it up is expected to take at least 10 years and cost the two countries $300 million each.

“While the scale of this initial success may seem small compared to the overall remediation challenge ahead, this achievement is notable,” the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Daniel J. Kritenbrink, said at the Wednesday event.

“The success of any long-term effort, like the 10-year project ahead of us, requires sustained commitment.”

He confirmed on behalf of his government that the cleanup of the airport would be complete as pledged.

Deputy Minister of National Defense Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh said: “On the map, the Gate 2 Lake is just a small spot in the airport, but it is possible for us to now say that a dead piece of land has been transformed into golden land for Dong Nai.”

This event is evidence that the governments of both Vietnam and the U.S. have kept their promise to the people and to each other, he said.

“I suggested to authorities in Bien Hoa Town and Dong Nai Province that they should put up a sign at the Gate 2 Lake to say this is the first land plot in the biggest project in the world to overcome the consequences of war.”

The event also saw the U.S. Mission to Vietnam and the National Action Center for Chemical and Environmental Treatment introduce a new joint project to support people with disabilities in eight provinces that were severely affected by Agent Orange: Dong Nai, Binh Phuoc and Tay Ninh in the south, Kon Tum in the Central Highlands and Binh Dinh, Quang Nam, Thua Thien-Hue, and Quang Tri in the central region.

USAID has committed $65 million for it over the next five years to give people with disabilities the opportunity to fully participate in society while improving their overall quality of life.

“The pledge shows the U.S. has taken responsibility for victims of the Vietnam War, and this should be considered yet another sign of the peaceful and cooperative relationship between the two nations,” Vinh said.

Between 1961 and 1971, the U.S. army 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 water bodies for generations, entering 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 before the war ended in April 1975. These chemicals have been linked to cancers, birth defects and many chronic diseases.

By Minh Nga – VnExpress.net – January 21, 2021

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