Danang: The United States today began a landmark project to clean up a dangerous chemical left from the defoliant Agent Orange 50 years after it was first sprayed by American planes on Vietnam`s jungles to destroy enemy cover.
Dioxin, which has been linked to cancer, birth defects and other disabilities, will be removed from the site of a former US air base in Danang in central Vietnam. The effort is seen as a long-overdue step toward removing a thorn in relations between the former foes nearly four decades after the Vietnam War ended.
"We are both moving earth and taking the first steps to bury the legacies of our past," US Ambassador David Shear said during the groundbreaking ceremony near the area where a rusty barbed wire fence marks the site`s boundary. "I look forward to even more success to follow."
The USD 43 million joint project with Vietnam is expected to be completed in four years on the 19-hectare (47-acre) contaminated site, located near Danang`s commercial airport and an active Vietnamese military base.
Washington has been slow to respond, quibbling for years over the need for more scientific research to show that the herbicide caused health problems and birth defects among Vietnamese.
It has given about USD 60 million for environmental restoration and social services in Vietnam since 2007, but this is its first direct involvement in cleaning up dioxin, which has seeped into Vietnam`s soil and watersheds for generations.
Shear added the US is planning to evaluate what`s needed for remediation at the former Bien Hoa air base in southern Vietnam, another Agent Orange hotspot.
The remediation begins as Vietnam and the US forge closer ties to boost trade and counter China`s rising influence in the disputed South China Sea that`s believed rich in oil and natural resources. The US says protecting peace and freedom of navigation in the sea is in its national interest.