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September 9, 2009

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Agent Orange money needed faster: Vietnam

VIETNAM urged the United States to speed up funding for Agent Orange victims yesterday at the start of the fourth annual meeting on joint efforts to clean up areas that American forces contaminated with the toxic herbicide during the Vietnam War.

US troops sprayed Agent Orange on jungles to deprive Vietnamese troops of ground cover. Vietnam says 1 to 4 million of its citizens may have suffered serious health consequences because of the poisonous spraying.

So far, clean-up efforts have focused on the airport at Danang, a former US air base in central Vietnam where American troops stored, mixed and loaded Agent Orange onto planes during the Vietnam War.

The two sides have already taken temporary steps to contain dioxin, the highly toxic element of Agent Orange, at the Danang site. They are now seeking ways to remove the dioxin from the soil.

The two sides are also working on joint efforts to help disabled Vietnamese whose health problems might be linked to Agent Orange.

The Vietnamese government estimates cleaning Danang and the two other most contaminated Agent Orange sites will cost US$58 million.

So far, the US government has set aside US$8 million to deal with environmental and health issues linked to Agent Orange.

Studies by a Canadian environmental consultant have identified seven Agent Orange hot spots, but Vietnam says there are as many as two dozens that need to be cleaned up.

As this week's meetings opened, Vietnam urged the US to speed up disbursement of money to help the disabled, saying they weren't getting help quickly enough.

"We all know that exposure to dioxin is the cause of serious suffering to the victims," said Nguyen Xuan Cuong, Vietnam's vice minister of natural resources and the environment.

The US Veterans Administration provides benefits to US veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and later developed various cancers.

But the US argues that more scientific study is needed to understand the link between Agent Orange and various physical disabilities suffered by Vietnamese.


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