About Agent Orange


The Cleanup

In the early 2000s, the Vietnamese government prioritized the Da Nang, Phu Cat and Bien Hoa bases for clean-up operations, for a total estimated cost of $58,695,000 based on an estimated cost of $250/cubic meter of soil/sediment by the Global Environmental Facility/UNDP. This estimate turned out to be very low as more information about the extent of the contamination and remediate costs were discovered.

The Ford Foundation and the US EPA became the first to get involved in resolving the issue of dioxin contamination at the Da Nang base. Ford funded the installation of a cement cap and sedimentation tank to prevent the dioxin-laden sediment from being transported in the runoff into the Sen Lake A in the northern end of the airport, further contaminating the site. In addition, a high wall was built around the base to keep people from fishing or gathering lotus from the contaminated lake, breaking in Da Nang the link of the dioxin contaminating the food chain.

In 2009, USAID awarded a contract to the American firm CDM to work with Hatfield Consultants to determine the extent of the dioxin contamination at the Da Nang hotspot and to develop a remediation or containment plan. USAID released the Environmental Assessment of the remediation at the Da Nang base in June 2010.  It was determined that in-pile thermal desorption (IPTD) was the most cost effective, safe and efficient method of reducing dioxin in an estimated 61,600 cubic meters of soil and sediment to below the Vietnamese government standard of 1000 ppt for soil and 150 ppt for sediment.

The US  committed to funding the clean-up of the dioxin contamination at the Da Nang site. The contract for the IPTD process, which was expected to take two years to complete, was given to the US company TerraTherm by USAID in 2011.  The process involved building a 70 meters wide by approximately 100 meters long concrete holding facility where contaminated soil was stored. Over 1200 heating units were inserted into the soil in order to raise the temperature of the soil to 335 degrees Celsius. As a result the TCDD dioxin molecules were broken down into harmless particles and the soil could be put back on the base to expand the airport.  In November 2018, working in close cooperation with the Vietnamese government, the process to treat 90,000 cubic meters (118,000 cubic yards) of contaminated soil and remediate the airbase was completed. The  cost of $116 million.

In April 2019, Senator Patrick Leahy and 8 other US Senators officially inaugurated  the joint US -Vietnam project to clean-up the dioxin contamination at the Bien Hoa Airbase. Bien Hoa was a major site of the US Air Force’s Operation Ranch Hand. Over 4 million gallons of Agent Orange were stored and loaded onto airplanes on the base. As were Agents Purple, Pink and Green that were even more heavily contaminated iwth Dioxin than Agent Orange. Agents White.and Blue were also loaded onto planes at the Bien Hoa base.   Vast areas of the base are heavily contaminated with dioxin as the Environmental Impact Study details. Approximately 650,000 Cubic yards (500,000 500,000 cubic meters) of soil, or nearly 123 acres (50 hectares) of land need to be decontaminated and remediated. The USAID and the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense signed a five-year, $183 million non-refundable aid agreement for this work at Bien Hoa. It could cost up to $US 1 Billion to complete depending on the technology used and its effectiveness.

Furthermore, little is known about the level of dioxin contamination at the other two dozen suspected hotspots throughout southern Vietnam. Among the hotspots are very sensitive areas such as active military bases, where testing for dioxin contamination has not yet occurred. Additional funding is needed to conduct testing at  the other hotspots and to develop and implement remediation or containment plans as required, with priority given to those hotspots where dioxin is threatening the health of the local population. The Vietnamese government now has the capacity to do the necessary testing. Depending on the level of contamination may also be able to conduct the needed mitigation measures with sufficient resources.

In addition to the former military bases in Vietnam where the herbicides were stored, used and tested, there are additional dioxin hotspots throughout the world that can be traced back to the Vietnam war herbicide program. Little is known, for instance, about potential hotspots at former bases used by the US in Thailand from the storage and/or frequent perimeter spraying. In the case of Laos, there is at least one downed spray plane believed to have a full load of Agent Orange. In addition, most of the information about the CIA led war in Laos is still classified. We do not know how much if any Agent Orange was stored in Laos at bases used by the CIA, loaded onto planes, or used for perimeter spraying. There was a small spray effort conducted by Air America in 1968 in central Laos but it is uncertain where any barrels of herbicides may have been stored in Laos. Much more needs to be learned.

Many of the hotspots in the US where the Agent Orange was manufactured, used or stored are now Superfund sites. However, the issue of who will clean up the US sites is still under debate, with numerous lawsuits against the chemical companies or the US Government still in the courts.  Newark Bay; the Saginaw area in Michigan; Gulfport, Mississippi;  Nitro, West Virginia and Times Beach, Missouri are just some of these locations in the US where Agent Orange had had an ongoing impact.