DA NANG — The Ministry of National Defence last Friday began work on clearing unexploded ordnance (UXO) from Da Nang Airport, an Agent Orange hotspot.
This is the first step of a joint project between the ministry of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to decontaminate areas with excessive contamination of dioxin, a highly toxic and harmful chemical contained in Agent Orange, a defoliant sprayed by the US Army during the American War.
The airport is known as one of the three hotspots for Agent Orange/dioxin contamination in Viet Nam.
A Canadian research firm found dioxin contamination levels in some areas within the airport were several hundred times higher than the permitted international standards.
Major-General Do Minh Tuan, Deputy Commander of the Anti-Aircraft and Air Force Service, in charge of clearing the unexploded ordnance, said the project would eliminate dioxin from 29ha of land that could later be used for economic and commercial purposes.
The US Embassy Charge d'Affaires a.i. in Ha Noi, Virginia Palmer, said in a press release that the demining project was "a striking example of the strong co-operation between the two governments."
She recalled Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks while visiting Viet Nam last October that the dioxin in the ground here was a "legacy of the painful past we share, but the project we will undertake here, as our two nations work hand-in-hand to clean up this site, is a sign of the hopeful future we are building together."
Palmer added that every year for the past five years, a joint advisory committee consisting of US and Vietnamese environmental and public health experts has met to discuss these issues and recommend joint projects.
The US Government has since 1989 provided US$37 million to clear UXO and $43 million to help survivors of UXO accidents, she said.
Dioxin, which has caused several human diseases and deformities, has so far affected an estimated 3 million Vietnamese people.
Among the dioxin hotspots in Viet Nam identified so far are Da Nang Airport in Da Nang City, Bien Hoa Airport in southern Dong Nai Province and Phu Cat Airport in south-central Binh Dinh Province.
The US Congress has allocated a total of $9 million for projects to clean up residual Agent Orange at hotspots in Viet Nam.
A report published by a US-Viet Nam research team last year estimated around $300 million will be needed over a period of 10 years to clear dioxin contamination in Viet Nam. — VNS