Painful figures

In October 1980, the Vietnamese Government decided to establish the National Committee to investigate the consequences of the US chemical war in Vietnam, referred to as the 10-80 Committee. On January 1, 1999, the National Steering Committee on overcoming the consequences of chemical toxins used by the US during the war in Vietnam, known as the Steering Committee 33, also came into being.

Results of the investigation and research of the 10-80 Committee and the Steering Committee 33 in collaboration with a number of domestic and foreign organizations have shown that the 3 most toxic chemical / dioxin contaminated sites are Da Nang airport, Bien Hoa airport and Phu Cat airport. They all used to be military bases used by the US military in the Ranch Hand and Pacer Ivy campaigns. In particular, Bien Hoa airport area has the largest amount of contaminated soil with more than 515,000m3. The concentration of pollutants found in this area is 92 times greater than the permitted standard for industrial and commercial land.

US Defense Minister visits the dioxin treatment area at Bien Hoa airport

According to the Association of Victims of Agent Orange / Dioxin, about 4.8 million Vietnamese people are exposed to Agent Orange / dioxin, of which more than 3 million people are victims of Agent Orange / dioxin. During the period 1993-2006, the 10-80 Committee and the Office of the Steering Committee 33 coordinated with a number of foreign partners to conduct surveys and studies, and found that the dioxin concentration in the blood of those who have fished nearby or consumed food originated from the Da Nang airport area is 100 times higher than the international standards. At the two areas of Bien Hoa and Phu Cat airports, dioxin levels were also found high in the blood of the surveyed subjects.

The Vietnamese people have been suffering such heavy consequences of war!

Success in detoxifying Da Nang airport

After the war ended, relevant Vietnamese agencies and units, particularly the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Office of the Steering Committee 33, and the 10-80 Committee, actively coordinated with international organizations such as Hatfield-Canada Company, US Agency for International Development to conduct surveys and studies to determine the location, scope and extent of chemical contamination in sprayed areas, former US military bases in Vietnam so as to provide appropriate remedial solutions.

For the detoxification project at Da Nang airport, with the support of the Ford Foundation, the Office of the Steering Committee 33 in coordination with the Ministry of Defense in 2007 concreted 6,900 square meters of toxic chemical / dioxin contaminated land to prevent the dioxin contamination from spreading to the surrounding area. Settling and filtering systems and spillways to minimize the amount of dioxin before pouring into the regulating lake. In the period 2012-2018, the Ministry of Defense of Vietnam cooperated with the US Agency for International Development to complete the treatment of 90,000 cubic meters of dioxin-contaminated soil and mud, and safely isolate about 50,000 cubic meters of unpolluted soil and mud. The total investment for this project is US$ 110 million from the US Government and VND 60 billion from the Vietnamese Government.

When the project was completed in November 2016, the Ministry of Defense of Vietnam handed over 32.4 hectares of post-processed land to the local authority of Da Nang city for socio-economic development. This has been a success in bilateral cooperation between the US and Vietnam in treating dioxin contamination in Vietnam.

At Bien Hoa airport, the Ministry of Defense of Vietnam has isolated about 150,000m3 of toxic / dioxin contaminated soil in two periods (2006-2010 and 2014-2017), with the total investment of about VND 150 billion.

In 2013, the Office of the Steering Committee 33 cooperated with the Ministry of Defense of Vietnam to build a work to temporarily isolate 10,000m2 of the dioxin contaminated area where the US Army conducted the Pacer Ivy campaign. This move was within the framework of the project on Environmental Remediation of Dioxin Hotspots in Vietnam funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Development Organization (UNDP) in the period 2011-2015.

In the period of 2017-2019, the Ministry of Defense of Vietnam implemented an investment project costing VND 270 billion to build infrastructure and pretreatment of toxic chemicals at Bien Hoa airport. The project was designed to prepare for the overall treatment of dioxin at the airport, including such items as improving transportation routes for handling dioxin both inside and outside the airport; building anti-spilling and isolating works in the contaminated areas, such as mudguard dams, isolation fences, mud gathering yards.

In 2018, the Military Science Department of the Ministry of Defense and Air Defense-Air Force signed documents to cooperate with the US Agency for International Development on dioxin handling at Bien Hoa airport in the period 2018- 2023 with a total non-refundable ODA committed by the United States of USD 183 million.

Easing pain of victims of dioxin

According to the Department of National Devotees under the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, as of 2018, about 320,000 war veterans and their children were considered exposed to toxic chemicals. Of them, about 159,000 people already got benefits from the Government.

In addition to monthly allowances, dioxin-affected people also enjoy other preferential policies, such as free medical services at hospitals or convalesces, free education and training and privilege at work.

The Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange / Dioxin has actively carried out activities in  support of victims of dioxin, such as building nurturing centers for seriously dioxin-affected patients, offering free regular detoxification treatment to all victims of dioxin, building houses of gratitude for poor victims of dioxin, giving scholarships to child victims of dioxin, providing employment assistance for dioxin victims who are still able to work, providing capital support for victims of dioxin to do their own business, granting free health insurance cards, free medical examination and free medicines to victims of dioxin.

In its presentation at an international conference organized by the Military Medical Academy in November 2018, the US Agency for International Development reported that the Vietnam Disability Support Program for the period 2015-2020 successfully implemented in 7 provinces of Vietnam. The program aiming at people with disabilities, including victims of Agent Orange / dioxin, had expanded rehabilitation services and expanded social services (providing at-home medical care and other services for critical cases) while seeking to reduce social discrimination against the disabled.

(To be continued)

Written by Yen Ba from Washington D.C, USA

Translated by Thu Nguyen