Dioxin remediation begins at Phu Cat military airport

Dec 16, 2011

Phu Cat, Binh Dinh province – A groundbreaking ceremony was held at Phu Cat airbase this morning for a 5,400 cubic meter contained landfill site which will be used to isolate the dioxin contamination at the airbase.

Phu Cat is one of three military airbases that are still highly contaminated by dioxin, due to large quantities of herbicides stored or handled there during the war. The other two hotspots are Da Nang and Bien Hoa airbases. The levels of dioxin concentration in these hotspots are as high as 365,000 parts per trillion (ppt) of international toxicity equivalents (I-TEQ). This is hundreds of times the required clean-up level by national and international standards.

Dioxin is a by-product of the manufacturing of ’Agent Orange’ herbicide mixtures that were used during the war. This toxic substance lasts a long time in the air, water and land. Soil contaminated with dioxin often becomes sediment in lakes and rivers, which is then passed on to fish and other animals.

The landfill at Phu Cat will be fully compliant with national regulations and will meet international standards. Proper containment and regular monitoring will eliminate the current risks of dioxin outflow.

The landfill site is part of a US$5 million UNDP and GEF (Global Environment Facility) project, launched in July 2010. The project focuses on supporting Viet Nam to remediate dioxin contamination at the three hotspots, including Phu Cat airbase. It aims to minimize disruption to ecosystems and health risks for people from the release of dioxin from the contaminated hotspots. The Office of the National Steering Committee 33 (Office 33) in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is responsible for implementing the project.

According to Director of Office 33 and national project director, Associate Prof Dr Le Ke Son: “Everything that we have done and will be doing at Phu Cat airbase follows national and international standards and procedures regarding dioxin remediation and treatment of other similar toxic compounds. Lessons learnt from this process will be applied to dioxin remediation at Bien Hoa airbase and other contaminated areas. We fully understand that remediation of dioxin contaminated hotspots must be done as soon as possible, and there is no reason for us to further delay eliminating dioxin from these hotspots.”

“This is a clear reminder that poisoning our environment is akin to poisoning ourselves,” said Ms Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony. “Without action, the hotspots will continue to be sources for contamination of the wider environment and will pose a serious health risk to people, especially through food chains.”

The Government, UNDP and other partners have agreed to apply a two-phased approach to cleaning up dioxin contamination at the hotspots. The first phase focuses on containment, isolating the toxic soil and sediment in the landfill, thereby reducing the exposure risk and eliminating risks to people and wildlife. The second phase will permanently destroy the dioxin. This generally requires very substantial financial resources.

UNDP will support the completion of the first phase – containment – at Phu Cat airbase and pave the way for the second phase – dioxin destruction – by testing appropriate technology at Bien Hoa airbase in the coming year.

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Contact information

Pernille Goodall, UN Communications Manager;
email: pernille.goodall@undp.org;
phone: +84-4-3822 4383 (ext 123)

Nguyen My Hang, Project Manager;
email: nguyen.my.hang@gmail.com;
phone: +84-4-3773 6354