Agent Orange cleanup efforts have started in Vietnam as the US looks to remove remnants of the dangerous defoliant used to deprive the Viet Cong of tree cover during the Vietnam War.
The effort is part of a plan to strengthen ties between the two countries and help make Vietnam a safer and healthier place, the Washington Post reported. Agent Orange is made with a chemical compound known as dioxin that has been known to cause cancer and severe birth defects.
Close to three million people were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam with at last 150,000 children suffering birth defects as a result. The Agent Orange cleanup effort had actually been planned for years, even as Vietnamese people continued to suffer health problems long after the war ended.
One of the Agent Orange hot spots, the Danang Airbase, has a high concentration of the toxic contaminants with chemical levels close to 400 times the globally accepted maximum, AFP reported. Locals used water and fished in Danang up until the area was closed and sealed off five years ago.
They suffered health effects up until the closing. In 2006, the Washington Post reported about a 5-year-old with “oversize head and a severely deformed mouth, and her upper body is covered in a rash so severe her skin appears to have been boiled.” Agent Orange was seen as the culprit.
A study from 2004 showed that birth defects in another hot spot, Sathay, were 10 to 20 times the national average. Across the country those living in hot spots had a higher risk of disease, especially cancer.
“At least three studies have pointed to possible link between a father’s exposure to Agent Orange and acute myeloid leukemia in his children,” according to the American Cancer Society.
The US-led effort to clean up Agent Orange entails pouring concrete on contaminated areas with workers heating the soil to 335 degrees in order to break down the chemical.