Friday, September 11, 2009

US, Vietnam in joint study of Agent Orange health damage

(AFP) – 1 day ago

HANOI — US and Vietnamese experts will jointly study the impact of the wartime herbicide Agent Orange on the health of people living in three major "hotspots," officials said Thursday.

A decision to establish the health task force came during annual talks at which officials from the two nations discussed Agent Orange and its cancer-linked component dioxin, they said.

The first job of the task force will be to collect information on "the negative impact" of dioxin on people living around former US airbases in Danang, Bien Hoa and Phu Cat, said Le Ke Son, co-chair of the Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) meetings.

During the Vietnam War, US forces stored Agent Orange at the bases and loaded it onto airplanes for defoliation missions.

"The goal of the task force is to prevent exposure in the hotspot areas and... propose ways to help people who were exposed in the hotspots in the past," Son said.

Asked how many people had been exposed in Danang, he said "it's a difficult question" that requires costly further study.

"But in principle we still list the people who live around the hotspot area as subjects who need attention and care," Son said.

Since last year's JAC meeting the United States has begun assisting disabled people in the Danang area, US ambassador Michael Michalak said.

"As we continue to work on those projects we look forward to receiving the advice from the health task force of the JAC," Michalak said, adding he was pleased that terms of reference for the task force had been agreed to.

At Vietnam's request, the US is focusing its assistance on the Danang site.

Both sides last year established an environmental task force, and in June they began testing "bio-remediation", the use of biological organisms to destroy dioxin at the Danang airport, Michalak said.

Vietnam has blamed dioxin for a spate of birth deformities and says about three million of its citizens are victims of herbicides sprayed by US forces.

The US has said there has been no internationally-accepted scientific study establishing a link between Agent Orange and Vietnam's disabled and deformed.

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