US funding promised to help clean up an airport contaminated by the wartime herbicide Agent Orange has not been disbursed fast enough, said a Vietnam official Sep. 8.
Vice Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Nguyen Xuan Cong made the remarks at the annual meeting of the United States-Vietnam Joint Advisory Committee on Agent Orange in Hanoi.
The two sides have met every year since 2006 to review cooperation between the two countries in the past years dealing with consequences of the poisonous chemical. The committee aims to discuss concrete measures and project solutions to deal with the problem.
For 10 years, U.S. forces sprayed Agent Orange and other herbicides on 10 percent of the land surface of South Vietnam, in an effort to destroy crops and deny Vietnam soldiers cover under the country's dense foliage.
A byproduct of Agent Orange, the most commonly used defoliant, was the highly toxic chemical dioxin. Dioxin has long been linked to several forms of cancer, adult-onset diabetes, and birth defects. The Institute of Medicine recently found evidence of an association between exposure to Agent Orange and the most deadly form of heart disease and Parkinson's disease.
Vietnam says up to four million of its citizens have suffered serious health consequences because of the poisonous spraying by U.S forces during the war.
Many babies of soldiers exposed to Agent Orange have been born with terrible birth defects, says Vietnam.
"We all know that exposure to dioxin is the cause of serious suffering to the victims," said Cong.
Cong added the U.S. should speed up disbursement of money to help the disabled, and that help is not coming quick enough.
"The committed funds from the U.S. government have not been disbursed," said Cong.
Cong said a joint task force on decontaminating the Danang airport, where U.S. forces stored Agent Orange and loaded it onto warplanes during the conflict, "has not met our expectations."
Vietnam estimates that cleaning Danang and two other most contaminated Agent Orange hot spots alone will cost $58 million. At Vietnam's request, the U.S. is focusing its assistance on Danang. So far, the U.S. has set aside $8 million to deal with environmental and health issues linked to Agent Orange.
There are as many as two-dozen hot spots that need cleaning up, says Vietnam.
The two countries have taken temporary steps to contain dioxin at the Danang site and are seeking ways to remove the poison from the soil. Both sides are also working on joint efforts to assist disabled Vietnamese whose health problems are results of the chemical.
In the past the U.S. and Vietnam have disagreed about the likely consequences of Agent Orange exposure, yet the two sides through the joint committee have agreed to work together to help Vietnamese who have disabilities, regardless of the cause.
U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak said at the meeting that the U.S. had begun implementing three health projects serving people with disabilities near the Danang airport. He added that bids have been received and a contract will soon be announced for an environmental assessment and remediation preparatory work at the airport.
In June both sides began testing "bioremediation," the use of biological organisms to destroy dioxin at the Danang airport, said Michalak. "If successful, bioremediation will provide an innovative and cost effective dioxin remediation solution," he said.
A joint study in Danang found dioxin levels were 300 to 400 times higher than internationally accepted limits.
Non-profit groups and international donors have contributed funds to the cause but much more is needed, says Vietnam. Vietnam is urging that the U.S. establish long-term projects to deal with the human suffering of Agent Orange victims.
The U.S. argues there has been no internationally-accepted scientific study establishing a link between Agent Orange and Vietnam's disabled and deformed.
However critics are urging the U.S. take responsibility of the consequences and help remedy the problem. Only grudgingly has the U.S. government acknowledged that the many herbicide-linked diseases in its own veterans stemmed from years serving in Vietnam, they charge. The U.S. has been even less forthcoming in helping Vietnam deal with the legacy of Agent Orange, they add. Congress, critics say, must increase the U.S. commitment to do justice to this continuing environmental and health disaster.