HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis paid a symbolic visit on Wednesday to an old US airbase, Bien Hoa in southern Vietnam, where Washington has pledged to clean up the area contaminated by the toxic defoliant Agent Orange.
I just want to get eyes on it so when I go back and I talk to Congress, I can tell them my impression with actually having seen the site, Mattis told the press during his flight to Ho Chi Minh City, where he began his two-day official visit to the country on Tuesday to strengthen bilateral defense ties.
The visit comes as US development agency USAID is set to begin its work of cleaning up the old air base and herbicide storage site, located 30 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, of Agent Orange.
The project, which has an estimated budget of $390 million, was initiated four years ago in Danang during the administration of President Barack Obama.
We had promised to help. So this is America keeping her promise to remediate some of the past, Mattis said.
US forces sprayed 80 million liters of Agent Orange during the war to destroy the forests in southern Vietnam, in order to clear out communist Viet Cong guerrillas.
According to Hanoi, the chemical developed by Monsanto, Dow Chemical and other 35 companies has led to nearly 3 million people being affected by it, leading to birth defects in 150,000 children since 1975, but neither the US nor the companies have recognized their responsibility towards the Vietnamese victims.
The investigations carried out by the US revealed that exposure to the dioxin, the poisonous content of the herbicide, was related to 13 diseases, including several types of cancer and heart conditions, while studies carried out in Vietnam linked 17 health conditions to it.
For years, Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange have been claiming compensation from the companies and the US government but have not received any yet.
While the US veterans who suffered the after-effects of the exposure to the defoliant have received compensation from the government, the Vietnamese victims have been living on minimal pensions, often under the care of their family members.
The recent ruling in which Monsanto was ordered to pay compensation to an American gardener, Dewayne Johnson, who was suffering from cancer due to exposure to a pesticide, has revived the complaints of the association of the Vietnamese victims.