Forty years after the end of the Vietnam War, parts of the country remain contaminated by the defoliants the U.S. military used to deny its enemy the cover of the jungle. Now, technology developed in Japan may be poised to help cleanse the land.
Japanese construction company Shimizu in late October brought contaminated soil from Vietnam to Japan for purification experiments. The company's technology proved effective in cleaning up soil contaminated by the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March 2011. The Vietnamese government is paying close attention to the tests.
LINGERING DANGER During the war, the U.S. military had an airfield in Bien Hoa, in the southern Vietnamese province of Dong Nai -- about an hour's drive from Ho Chi Minh City. The airfield, now used by the Vietnamese Air Force, is "the most dioxin-contaminated place in the world," according to Vietnamese daily Bao Thanh Nien.
U.S. military planes that sprayed chemical defoliants -- the most notorious being Agent Orange -- were washed at the airfield after returning from their missions. The location remains so contaminated possibly because the water used to wash the planes penetrated deep into the soil, carrying dioxins and other toxic substances with it.
Areas around former U.S. air bases in Danang and Phu Cat, in the central and southern parts of Vietnam, are polluted for similar reasons. Along with Bien Hoa, they are known as the "three hot spots."