The United States has launched a multi-million-dollar cleanup operation at a former air base in Vietnam that was used to store Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide responsible for causing cancer and a series of health complications among the Vietnamese after the US military intervention in the country in the 1960s and 70s.
The ten-year project kicked off at the Bien Hoa Airport outside Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, which is considered the country’s most contaminated remaining site, and would cost $183 million.
The airport was one of the main depots for storing the notorious chemical during the Vietnam War and was partially cleaned at the end of the conflict more than four decades ago.
The Bien Hoa Airport is the latest site slated for rehabilitation by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense after the cleanup of Da Nang airbase was completed last November.
American officials at the USAID said in a statement that Bein Hoa is the "largest remaining hotspot" and that the dioxin contamination in the area is nearly four times that of Da Nang, which took six years and an investment of 110 million dollars to treat 90,000 cubic meters of contaminated soil.
"The fact that two former foes are now partnering on such a complex task is nothing short of historic," said the US ambassador to Vietnam, Daniel Kritenbrink, at the project launching ceremony on April 20, which was attended by Vietnamese military officials and US senators.
The US military conducted aerial attacks, known as Operation Ranch Hand, over southern Vietnam between 1961 and 1971, spraying more than 80 million liters of Agent Orange to destroy jungles and uncover the Vietnamese fighters’ hiding places.
The defoliant substance contained dioxin, which is one of the most toxic chemicals known to man and has been linked to severe birth defects, cancers and mental and physical disabilities.
The US had stored Apple Agent at the Bien Hoa Airport and with the war having ended, a large quantity of the toxic chemical seeped into the groundwater and entered into the food chain of the local population living near the storage sites.
More than four million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange and nearly one million of them were reported to suffer severe health conditions. An estimated 150,000 children were also born with birth defects.
The US government pays compensation to its veterans exposed to the toxic substance but has refused to compensate the Vietnamese nationals.