BIEN HOA AIR BASE, Vietnam (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday visited a former American air base in southern Vietnam that will soon become the biggest-ever U.S. cleanup site for contamination left by the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.Standing near a skull-and-crossbones warning sign meant to keep people away from toxic soil, Mattis was briefed by Vietnamese officials about the massive contamination area.
In a possible sign of the sensitivity surrounding Agent Orange in Vietnam, where millions of people are still suffering its effects, reporters were not allowed to attend the outdoor briefing for Mattis at Bien Hoa Air Base.
“I came to show the support of the Defense Department for this project and demonstrate that the United States makes good on its promises,” Mattis told his Vietnamese counterpart at a closed-door meeting later in nearby Ho Chi Minh City.
Cleanup is expected to start getting under way early next year.
U.S. troops dropped Agent Orange during the Vietnam War to clear thick jungle. But it contributed to severe health problems that, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, can include Parkinson’s Disease, prostate cancer and Chronic B-cell Leukemia.
Of the 4.8 million Vietnamese who were exposed to Agent Orange, some three million are still dealing with its effects, including children born with severe disabilities or other health issues years after their parents were exposed, according to the Hanoi-based Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange.