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article imageReport: US should pay for cleaning up Agent Orange in Vietnam

By Stephanie Dearing     Jun 17, 2010 in World
Washington - A private bi-national group that consists of citizens, policy makers and scientists came up with a ten-year, $300 million clean-up plan for 14 of Vietnam's Agent Orange hot spots.
The Aspen Institute announced the adoption of the plan Wednesday in a press release, and now the blue-ribbon group, as the private group calls itself, is lobbying the United States government to act on the plan. IPS reported that panel co-chair Walter Isaacson said "We are talking about something that is a major legacy of the Vietnam War and a major irritant in this important relationship. The cleanup of our mess from the Vietnam War will be far less costly than the Gulf oil spill that BP will have to clean up."
While it is spelled out in the plan that the United States should foot most of the $300 million in clean-up costs, the panel is pushing for collaboration between "other governments, foundations, businesses, and nonprofits."
During the Vietnam war, the US sprayed 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides containing dioxin said the Institute. It is believed that three to five million Vietnamese people were directly and indirectly exposed to Agent Orange both during and after the war and another 2.8 million US military personnel were exposed during the war.
Vietnam and the United States have only resumed diplomatic relations 15 years ago. The war has been over for 35 years. The Aspen Institute said it was time to set aside arguments over who is responsible for Vietnam's Agent Orange problem saying "Questions of responsibility, awareness and data reliability have for too long generated bitter controversy and stalled remedial action."
Dioxin is a persistent organic pollutant and was an ingredient in Agent Orange and other herbicides. Agent Orange was used in Vietnam during the war by the USA to defoliate trees. Today, there are still large tracts of land that are denuded. The Department of Defense claims only 10.65 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed.
The United States has contributed funds towards clean-up of three Agent Orange hot spots in Vietnam, although the government has been reluctant to acknowledge a link between Agent Orange and the host of illnesses and disabilities experienced by Vietnamese people and Vietnam veterans.
While Vietnam bears the brunt of environmental contamination by dioxins as a lethal legacy of the Vietnam War, Americans in some communities are also exposed to high levels of dioxins, reports the Aspen Institute.
The clean-up plan took three years to achieve. The idea for the dialogue came from the Ford Foundation in 2006. As a result of the bi-national collaboration brokered by the Ford Foundation and the Aspen Institute, there have been small increments of progress made towards addressing the issues caused by Agent Orange in Vietnam. For example, centers of rehabilitation have been opened up in Vietnam; three sites in Vietnam have been cleaned up, and the Gates Foundation kicked in money to set up a testing lab.
The Aspen Institute says dioxin is dangerous "... even in tiny amounts (parts per trillion) ... The U.S. Institute of Medicine's July 2009 report cited sufficient evidence of association between exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin and five illnesses: soft-tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (including hairy-cell leukemia), Hodgkin's disease, and chloracne.
The report also found evidence suggesting an association with prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, amyloidosis (abnormal protein deposits), Parkinson’s disease, porphyria cutanea tarda (a blood and skin disorder), ischemic heart disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, and cancer of the larynx, lung, bronchea or trachea, and spina bifida in exposed people’s offspring.
In Vietnam, the Vietnamese Red Cross also associates the following with exposure to dioxin: liver cancer; lipid metabolism disorder; reproductive abnormalities and congenital deformities such as cleft lip, cleft palate, club foot, hydrocephalus, neural tube defects, fused digits, muscle malformations and paralysis; and some developmental disabilities"
The fact sheet goes on to say that dioxin is dangerous because it "... is a persistent organic pollutant that is toxic over many decades, is not water-soluble and does not degrade easily. Clinging to soil particles carried by water runoff from spills or sprayed areas downstream into the sediments of lakes or streams, it is consumed by mollusks, fish and waterfowl, easily entering the human food chain.
Chemically stable and retained in human fatty tissue, dioxin alters the complex cellular and chemical balances involved in bodily functioning and reproductive processes.
Its adverse effects can be ameliorated by surgery, medication or rehabilitation therapy in most cases if detected early, but some effects cannot be corrected by any amount of time or money.
The genetic effects may skip a generation and reappear in third or subsequent generations."
Voice of America reported Thursday that negotiations between the United States and Vietnam on the 15th anniversary of reinstated diplomatic relations included talks on dioxin remediation.
The Aspen Institute has published the Plan of Action.
More about Agent orange, Vietnam, Persistent organic pollutant
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