U.S. taxpayers on the hook for Vietnam cleanup

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Federal and local authorities plan to spend $43 million to clean up a dioxin-contaminated site, using the latest superfund techniques.

They've already poured a 6-inch concrete slab over an area half the size of a football field, since dioxin is not water soluble, and only spreads when rainfall and runoff move contaminated mud.

The government has already provided $60 million for environmental restoration and social services, but the latest project will involve excavating 73,000 cubic meters of earth and heating the soil to 635 degees in special containers, which will break it down into oxygen, carbon dioxide and other relatively harmless substances.

The Environmental Protection Agency has plenty of experience in overseeing such cleanups, but this 47-acre site is in an unusual place -- Vietnam.

The location is the former U.S. air base at Danang, now an active Vietnamese military base near a commercial airport.

If you weren't there yourself, you've probably seen the old videos of plans spraying Agent Orange -- contaminated with dioxins -- over South Vietnam.

From 1962 to 1971, the U.S. military dumped some 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other "rainbow" herbicides over about 5 million acres of forest, about the size of Massachusetts.

Northern Communist forces seized control of Saigon on April 30, 1975, after some 58,000 Americans and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese died in the Vietnam war. After years of poverty and isolation, Vietnam opened up to to U.S. investment and diplomatic relations were normalized in 1995.

After we became trading partners, the U.S. was put under pressure to deal with the cancer, birth defects and other disabilities caused by the contamination.

The United States was pulled into the Vietnam war over fears that the country would be the first "domino" in a chain of expanding communist influence.

Today, we're engaging the region for economic reasons, hoping to counteract expanding Chinese influence on the Pacific Rim.

It's ironic that as the "loser" of the Vietnam war, U.S. taxpayers are on the hook for cleaning up the mess, the same way we were after winning World War II, spending billions through the Marshall Plan to counteract communist influence in Europe.

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