37 years after the fall of Saigon, the U.S. is beginning a project to help reverse some of the devastation caused by the Vietnam War. The U.S. has begun a joint project with Vietnam to clean up toxic chemicals left behind during the Vietnam War. According to the Associated Press, the $43 million project will decontaminate a former U.S. air base in Denang. The site, which is now a Vietnamese military base, is contaminated with dioxin, a toxic byproduct left over from a chemical dubbed Agent Orange. It will take four years to decontaminate the 47-acre site.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. used defoliants to devastate Vietnam's jungles, which were used for cover by guerrillas such as the Viet Cong. Chemicals were often dumped from helicopters, as seen in the photo above. Agent Orange is the most well-known of these chemicals, and its toxicity has caused lasting damage to Vietnam's environment and population. 20 million gallons of Agent Orange were dropped on almost 18% of Vietnam's forests during the war. The chemical has left behind a dioxin compound that has been shown to cause cancer and birth defects.
The AP quoted U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear as saying, "We are both moving earth and taking the first steps to bury the legacies of our past." Shear was also reported to have said the U.S. is looking at providing similar cleanup efforts at another site contaminated by Agent Orange, the former Bien Hoa U.S. air base.
This is not the first measure taken by the U.S. to mitigate the environmental and health risks posed by Agent Orange. According to the AP, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency poured six inches of concrete over the site five years ago. The new plan for the Denang site is to dig up the soil contaminated by dioxins and heat it to 635 degrees Fahrenheit. This will break the dioxin down into harmless compounds such as oxygen and carbon dioxide.