U.S.-Vietnam dioxin effort makes progress at airport
By Grant McCool
HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnamese military technicians have capped an area of a former U.S. military airport with concrete to stop dioxin or "agent orange" contaminating a lake, part of a joint project to deal with a bitter war legacy.
The measures taken in recent months at Danang in central Vietnam were temporary, but an important milestone, a group of prominent Vietnamese and Americans said on Friday.
Danang airport is one of three "hot spots" identified by scientists as having dioxin levels hundreds of times higher than would be accepted elsewhere. The others are Phu Cat in south-central Binh Dinh province and Bien Hoa in southern Dong Nai province.
"The rainwater is no longer taking dioxin from that soil and putting it into the lake where people are fishing," Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, told a news conference in Hanoi.
Isaacson, a member of the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin which visited the site on Thursday, described a system of channels, filters and sediment tanks, and a carbon filter that takes dioxin out of the water.
The compound of dioxin is a component of "agent orange" toxic herbicides sprayed during the 1960s and 1970s war.
Its impact on human health is controversial. The U.S. maintains there is no scientifically proven link between the wartime spraying and the more than 3 million people Vietnam says were disabled by dioxin over three generations.
Vietnamese Lt. Gen. Phung Khac Dang said that besides a thick layer of concrete being put over the north end of the base, the Ministry of Defence has built a wall and watchtowers to deter people from using the lake.
"As long as the dioxin is still there it is dangerous to us with unpredictable consequences," Dang said.
The U.S. Congress last year appropriated $3 million for cleanup and treatment of dioxin-related illnesses. Members of the Dialogue Group, funded by the U.S.-based Ford Foundation, said they expected the money to be released this year.
The group's tasks include supporting clean-up at former U.S. bases and health programs in surrounding communities; treatment and education centers for victims; development of a Vietnamese laboratory for dioxin testing; training courses for restoration of land affected with herbicides and advocacy efforts.
Washington last year donated $400,000 to Vietnam toward the clean-up at Danang.
The toxins left behind by the war are a thorn in otherwise friendly ties built up around trade and business since 1995.
Vietnamese diplomat Madame Ton Nu Thi Ninh told reporters that the efforts were "a work of the present and the future" to enhance relations between former enemies.
"I'm a great believer that there can be no full normalization between the United States and Vietnam if we do not find reasonable and peaceable ways of jointly addressing this major legacy of the war," Ninh said.
The issue is also legally sensitive because a Vietnamese victims group is suing 37 U.S. chemical companies in a U.S. Federal court. The class action suit was thrown out in March 2005 and the group appealed against the ruling last June, but the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York has not yet issued a decision.
(Editing by Katie Nguyen)