Nearly 40 years after the Vietnam War, the U.S. launched a project to clean up toxic residues of Agent Orange — one of the many herbicides used by the U.S. military during the war was proven to contain dioxin, a chemical linked to cancer, birth defects and other disabilities. The $43 million joint project with Vietnam will take four years and cover a large contaminated area, including a former U.S. air base in Da Nang, where Agent Orange was mixed, stored and loaded onto planes.

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During the war, between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. military sprayed around 20 million gallons of highly toxic chemical material mixed with jet fuel in Vietnam, eastern Laos and Cambodia, as part of the Operation Ranch Hand. The objective was to deforestate the area and cut off the food supply, thus crippling the Vietnamese guerilla forces.

Dioxins are very insoluble in water, and they spread through contaminated fish, vegetables and well water. According to reports, 7 million people have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150 000 children born with birth defects. Since 2007, the US has provided $60 million to help people with disabilities in Vietnam, though most of the initiatives were not specifically linked to Agent Orange. The new project is dedicated to eliminating dioxin “hot spots” and financially support those affected by the chemical.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense and the U.S. plan to excavate 2.5 million cubic feet of contaminated soil, digging to a depth of 6.56 feet. The soil will then be heated to temperatures high enough to break down the dioxin into harmless compounds.

After resuming diplomatic relations in 1992, the two countries have become important trading partners. Strengthened by the common national interests in the South China Sea, the joint efforts in removing toxic substances left by the war will possibly mark a new phase in overcoming the ugly aftermath of the Vietnam War.

Via Motherboard and The New York Times

Photos by Wikimedia Commons