Dioxin cleanup underway at US-built airport in central Vietnam
By Vo Thanh at VN Express
The defense ministry’s Chemical Command is cleaning up A So airport in Thua Thien Hue Province of dioxin contamination left from the Vietnam War.
Situated in A Luoi District, 100 km from the town of Hue, the country’s imperial capital, the airport was built by the U.S. in the 1960s.
Between August 1965 and December 1970 A Luoi District was among the places where the U.S. sprayed Agent Orange most intensively.
From 1961 to 1971 the U.S. army made 19,905 sorties and sprayed 80 million liters of deadly chemicals over farmlands and forests in Vietnam.
Of this, 61 percent was Agent Orange, containing 366 kg of dioxin, a highly toxic defoliant that stays in the soil and at the bottom of lakes and rivers for generations.
According to government data, around 11kg of dioxin was sprayed on A So airport.
It is estimated that the chemical has percolated 0.7 m into the soil and a total of 35,000 cubic meters of land at the airport is contaminated.
In 2020 the Chemical Command received approval for work to remove dioxin from the airport until 2022 at a cost of VND70 billion ($3 million).
Lieutenant Nguyen Phuong Minh, deputy head of the biology unit under the command’s Military Institute of Environmental Chemistry, said the process of removing dioxin has faced problems since the airport lies in a valley with many groundwater veins.
Besides, Covid-19 interrupted the work and the team is now pushing ahead with the task to meet the year-end deadline, he said.
Around 200 soldiers and officers are working now on the cleanup. Every day they take contaminated soil from the airport and get it treated using advanced biotechnology before bringing the clean soil back.
Nguyen Manh Hung, chairman of A Luoi District, which has 4,200 Agent Orange victims, said once the airport is free of dioxin, it would boost local economic development, especially agriculture.
Studies have shown that dioxin enters the food chain through meat, fish and other animals, and has been found in alarmingly high levels in human breast milk.
Some 2.1-4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals that have been linked to cancers, birth defects and other chronic diseases before the war ended in April 1975, according to the Red Cross.