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US says willing to do more on dioxin in Vietnam

Written by: Staff
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HANOI, June 5 (Reuters) The United States is prepared to do more scientific work with Vietnam on the impacts of wartime poisoning of Vietnamese with dioxin, a military official said today during a visit by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The issue remains a sore point in otherwise friendly relations between former enemies Washington and Hanoi, but the Americans have ruled out paying compensation.

''Technical advice we can share. We agreed that both sides will sit down at the expert level and see what more we can do,'' said the senior military official after Vietnamese officials raised the issue in a meeting with Rumsfeld in Hanoi.

Vietnam says dioxin, commonly known as ''agent orange'', still causes illnesses and birth defects more than 30 years after spraying of the herbicide. More than 70 million litres of the defoliant was sprayed between 1961 and 1971 to destroy forest cover and crops of North Vietnam troops in the war with US-backed South Vietnam that ended in 1975.

A joint Vietnam-US committee of five members each with military, health, environmental and chemical expertise met today. One of its jobs is to discuss ways of cleaning up dioxin at the former US military base in the central city of Danang.

A new study by Vietnamese and Canadian scientists identified three ''hot spots'' of former US military bases in central and southern Vietnam that showed dioxin still lingers in the soil. The herbicide was known to have spilled at the sites.

The hardest hit is Bien Hoa in Dong Nai province and the others are Danang and Phu Cat in Binh Dinh province, according to a report by Hatfield environmental consultants of West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

DIOXIN IN SOIL Soil tests at a Canadian laboratory showed that mud contained the largest amount of dioxin. Scientists have advised people in Bien Hoa not to eat fish fat and intestine, ducks and other animals living near the town's lake.

A soil sample from the lake showed it had levels of dioxin hundreds of times higher than the level many countries allow.

''The people around here are affected by dioxin higher than the average,'' Tran Huu Hau, acting director of the Bien Hoa health department, told Vietnam Television in a report broadcast on Saturday.

Dioxin poisoning is a serious public health issue that has had an impact on all levels of Vietnamese society from people in leadership to the poor, say those who have studied the issue.

''Although the two governments show a new willingness to resolve the dioxin issue, it is still contentious and could take some further time before the required large-scale programmes of remediation materialise,'' said Charles Bailey, Hanoi representative of the Ford Foundation, a US philanthropic group that funded part of the environmental research.

Bailey said the private non-profit sector could contribute by expanding services for disabled in dioxin areas, public health work around ''hot spots'', pilot studies for clean-up, and educating the American public on the issue.

In 2004, the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange Association sued 37 chemical companies including Dow Chemical Co and Monsanto Co.

that manufactured and sold the herbicides. It was thrown out in March 2005 and the group is appealing the ruling.

REUTERS KD BD1725

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