A US-Vietnamese group said Friday 1.2 million dollars had been spent to contain rainwater run-off from a "dioxin hotspot" at a war-time US airbase that was a depot for the toxic defoliant Agent Orange.
Containment measures at the airport of the central city of Danang aimed to protect nearby residents from further dioxin contamination, visiting members of the US-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin told a media briefing.
As part of the project, scientists had tested blood and breast milk samples from residents and workers near the base and found they exceeded safe levels of the most toxic dioxin type TCDD "by a wide margin," the group said.
A new cement cap had been built over a former Agent Orange loading area, water drains and treatment facilities which now contained run-off, and a downstream lake outside the base had been fenced off to stop people from fishing there.
Under the 1961-71 "Operation Ranch Hand" US forces sprayed about 80 million litres (21 million gallons) of Agent Orange and other herbicides on southern and central Vietnam to deprive enemies of forest cover and food crops.
Washington has rejected responsibility for the millions of people Vietnam says have suffered direct or second-generation disabilities due to Agent Orange, with US officials pointing to a lack of mutually agreed data.
However, in an effort to address the issue, US Congress last May set aside three million dollars "for environmental remediation of dioxin storage sites and to support health programmes in communities near those sites."
The money has not yet been released, but US Ambassador Michael Michalak told the dialogue group that "final steps are being taken to determine how these funds will be spent," his embassy said.
The dialogue group said in a statement that "there have been an alarming number of birth defects, cancers and health problems among both American troops and their families and generations of Vietnamese veterans and civilians."
"Dioxin has had a profound impact on generations of Vietnamese families," said Ton Nu Thi Ninh, a member of the group, which has received funds for the projects from the non-profit Ford Foundation and the US government.
"It has devastated lives and the environment for decades," she said. "But the initial progress we're seeing is very heartening. It is a meaningful contribution toward addressing the toxic legacy of the war."
The group is seeking public and private donors for other projects, including health and education services for disabled children and youths, landscape restoration, and to set up a high-tech laboratory to test for dioxin traces.