The United States and Vietnam on Thursday began a clean-up of the remnants of Agent Orange, a defoliant that American planes sprayed on the South Vietnamese jungle in order to deprive Viet Cong of tree cover during the Vietnam War.
Agent Orange, which contains a compound called dioxin, has been linked to cancer and severe birth defects. Up to three million Vietnamese people were exposed to the chemical and at least 150,000 children born with birth defects.
The clean-up, which stalled for years, is especially notable because Agent Orange continued to impact the health of locals long after the end of the war.
AFP reported that “the Danang Airbase is one of three ‘dioxin hotspots’ where concentrations of extremely toxic contaminants from Agent Orange are nearly 400 times the globally accepted maximum standard.”
Until the area was sealed off five years ago, locals still used water and fished in Danang, causing horrific health issues even in people who weren’t exposed at the time.
In 2006, for example, the Post’s Anthony Faiola wrote about Van, a 5-year-old who has an, “oversize head and a severely deformed mouth, and her upper body is covered in a rash so severe her skin appears to have been boiled.”
Then there’s Duc Nguyen, who was born in the early 80s in a town that was heavily sprayed with Agent Orange during the war, and began life as a conjoined twin. “These days, Duc Nguyen, who has one leg and severe bone distortions...spends his days in an office one floor below his noncognitive brother, who is kept tied to a bed most of the time, unable to move his stump-like body and reflexively gargling on his own saliva,” Faiola wrote.
A 2004 study by the Vietnamese government indicated that birth defects in Sathay were 10 to 20 times more common than the national average, he reported.
Aside from Vietnamese who were stricken with gruesome ailments, Vietnam veterans also experienced elevated risks of certain kinds of cancer and other diseases.
“At least three studies have pointed to possible link between a father's exposure to Agent Orange and acute myeloid leukemia in his children,” according to the American Cancer Society..
In 2007, Vietnamese authorities, with help from the U.S. government and grant-making bodies, poured a concrete slab on the contaminated area, but this is the U.S.’ first direct involvement in eliminating the herbicide from the soil.
The effort is expected to take four years, and workers will heat the contaminated soil to 335 degrees in order to break down the chemical.
Last year, the U.S. and Vietnam began the detection and removal of unexploded ordnance in Danang, which they called “a key first step” in the removal of Agent Orange.
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