SEATTLE, Washington — During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military released a toxin called Agent Orange over Vietnam. Vietnam Veterans of America has been raising awareness about the issue by holding town halls across the United States. As for Vietnamese people affected by Agent Orange, their plight is not documented nearly as well. “Agent Orange has affected 3 million Vietnamese people.” A minimum of 150,000 of those affected are children. Infants with birth defects from Agent Orange continue to be born in Vietnam today. Fortunately, organizations like Shimizu and USAID are helping Vietnamese Agent Orange victims.
Long Term Health Effects
There were approximately 20 million gallons or 90 million liters released on Southern Vietnamese soil and some of the soil in Laos and Cambodia half a century ago. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ website, exposure to Agent Orange has led to a variety of cancers as well as physical and mental diseases and disabilities.
A Greenpeace Fact Sheet on dioxins and their effects on human health reported that the chemical is a persistent organic pollutant with a half-life of seven years. This means it takes seven years for half of the initial potency of the toxin to dissipate. In terms of its effect on soil, it may take anywhere from nine to 15 years before its concentration halves, according to the Agent Orange Association of Canada.
Long Term Environmental Effects
Along with poisoning generations of Vietnamese, Agent Orange left dioxin hotspots that permanently contaminated lakes. However, according to the Aspen Institute’s U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin, the residue can be and is being cleaned up using well-known and cost-effective methods. The Aspen Institute provided step-by-step instructions for how to facilitate a dioxin hotspot clean up.
If the soil is determined to have a dioxin level higher than 1000 ppt (parts per trillion), it requires intervention. Interventions involve restricting access to affected areas and creating an infrastructure that prevents dioxin dissemination. Building preventative barriers such as landfills and containment measures such as filtration traps-keep dioxin out of secondary sites such as bodies of water. Such a strategy for a dioxin hotspot cleanup can keep dioxin out of the food chain.
The Aspen Institute and Shimizu have been researching and creating methods to decontaminate hotspots of dioxin, the deadly contaminant in Agent Orange. Biên Hòa, a city in Đồng Nai Province in Vietnam, is one of the most contaminated sites. The U.S. used that site to store at least half of the Agent Orange to be used during the war. Tests found a concentration of 262,000 ppt in Biên Hòa.
Japanese engineering group Shimizu will collaborate with Vietnam’s military to build the facility which will decontaminate long polluted soils. The plant will be built on Biên Hòa airbase near Ho Chi Minh City. Japan will be importing all necessary materials for the plant with Shimizu covering the costs. According to an October 2018 article on the Shimizu corporation’s blog, the soil remediation should begin in mid-January 2019. It is unclear how far along the company is with these goals; however, the Shimizu corporation and the Vietnamese government have set a goal to complete the cleanup nationwide by 2030.
Shimizu is just one organization attempting to contribute to the ongoing issues faced by Vietnamese Agent Orange Victims. The U.S. is also working to help clean up the dioxins. In 2019, USAID received $15 million to dedicate to the cleanup project. Since 2007, USAID has provided $225 million to help with environmental and health concerns brought on by Agent Orange.
Although things have been difficult for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims, the victims themselves and their advocates are steadily finding their voice. Advocates have been generating solutions for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims with great fervor. This new clean-up project could finally end the pervasive contamination that has plagued the people in Vietnam.
– Julia Stephens