After a mere 40 years, the United States has decided to start cleaning up the toxic mess left by Agent Orange in Vietnam.
Between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. military sprayed around 20 million gallons of the toxic substance, along with a cocktail of other herbicides, on almost a quarter of former South Vietnam. It ate through 5 million acres of forest, a chunk of land about the size of Massachusetts. On top of that, another half-million acres of crops were destroyed.
Aside from the devastating agricultural impact Agent Orange had on Vietnam, the chemical has also had devastating effects on the health of citizens across the country. Vuo Duoc, a 58-year-old who recently got news that he and 11 family members who live near a former U.S. military base have lingering dioxin in their bloodstreams, is one of many suffering long-term effects. He says his wife is battling breast cancer and his daughter has suffered several miscarriages as a result of the chemical, which he believes they unwittingly ingested through local fish and water.
You’d think Duoc would have a few choice words for the U.S. government, but surprisingly, he says it’s “better late than never that the U.S. government is cleaning up the environment for our children. They have to do as much as possible and as quickly as possible.”
So the plan is for the U.S. and Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense to “excavate 2.5 million cubic feet of soil” from in and around the Danang airport, home to a former military base that stored Agent Orange. The soil will be dumped into storage tanks, which will be pumped to temperatures high enough to kill any lingering dioxins.
This process is expected to take about 4 years and will cost $43 million. I guess it’s great that the U.S. is finally stepping forward in good faith (well, we hope that’s the case), but after 40 years of seeping into the soil and groundwater, is this really going to make much of a difference to the agriculture, air, and water quality of Vietnam? What do you think?