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Vietnam approves Czech-funded Agent Orange project


The ČSSR helped make the US military’s deadly ‘Agent Orange’ defoliant; Prague is helping Vietnam deal with the aftermath

Spolana, now part of Poland’s PKN Orlen, produced chemicals used by the US military to make ‘Agent Orange,’ a defoliant that killed countless Vietnamese and left 500,000 children with birth defects. At least 80 Spolana workers fell seriously ill due to exposure to the chlorine herbicide 2,4,5-T; decades later, the building where it was poduced was still among the most contaminated places on Earth. foto: © ČTKČeská pozice

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has approved a project funded by the Czech government to aid victims of “Agent Orange” — a notorious defoliant and extremely toxic dioxin compound used by the US military in its herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War that left some 500,000 children with birth defects and killed or maimed as many adults.

In November 2008 the Czech Development Agency (ČRA) pledged $1.8 million in assistance for dioxin clean-up efforts in Binh Dinh province, in Vietnam’s South Central Coast region ($1 million for a detoxification project around Phu Cat airport, the site of a former US base where the product was stored, and $800,000 to Agent Orange victims in the province).

Although not mentioned in ČRA documenation about the Czech contribution to the dioxin clean-up effort, at the height of the Vietnam War, the former Czechoslovak communist regime had quietly produced and shipped the chlorine herbicide “2, 4, 5-T” — half of the toxic mix (along with the common weedkiller “2, 4-D”) used to create Agent Orange — to the “imperialist” Americans through various trade corporations, knowing full well its intended use. 

During the Vietnam War, the communists quietly shipped deadly chemicals to the ‘imperialist’ Americans through back channels. 

The US military sprayed 75.7 million liters of chemical herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia, as part of “Operation Ranch Hand,” which aimed to deprive the Viet Cong of cover and force farmers and peasants to flee to the U.S. dominated cities, thus depriving the guerrillas of their rural support base and food supply.

More than 17,000 people in Binh Dinh are confirmed to be Agent Orange victims, according to the Vietnam News Agency (VNA), with only half receiving some forms of social welfare; some families have up to three or four members affected by the  defoliant.

The role of Spolana

The sprawling Czech petrochemicals plant Spolana (now owned by Poland’s PKN Orlen) produced the 2, 4, 5-T from 1965 to 1968. Before the Czechoslovak government stopped production, some 80 Czech workers and a number of Bulgarians and Angolans had fallen ill from coming in to contact with it; 55 were eventually hospitalized, and many developed brain dysfunction disorders and lifelong diseases, according to Dr. Miroslav Suta, a physician with the environmental pressure group Greenpeace Czech Republic.

“Financial compensation [to the victims] in the early 1970s was in the magnitude of several hundreds to thousands of Czech crowns per person [i.e. between ten to a few hundred USD at currency exchange rates valid at the time],” Greenpeace International said in its 2002 “Corporate Crimes” report; the pressure group noted that liability was never established and the building where the 2, 4, 5-T was made remained among the most contaminated places on Earth decades later.

A 50:50 mixture of 2, 4, 5-T and 2, 4-D, Agent Orange was manufactured for the US Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. 

According to Czech Labor Law, companies must inform employees about inherent risks at the workplace. A draft internal document June 2009 titled “Information about Risks at Spolana” warns chemical plant workers that the so-called SAE buildings there (B116 A,B; B1150; A1510), now under the care of Geosan Group — a bidder in the controversial Czech eco-tender to clean up much of the country’s severe pollution legacy— are still highly contaminated with mercury.

WikiLeaks shows Czech involvement

In a December 2007 dispatch from the US Embassy in Hanoi, titled “More Potential Partners for Agent Orange/Dioxin Remediation,” published by Wikileaks, then US Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak noted progress in assembling international donors to tackle the issue and coordinate efforts:

Representatives from the Czech Republic detailed to ESTHOffs [Environment, Science and Technology and Healthofficers] their dioxin-related efforts, which include ecological sampling and analysis at a pilot site in Thua Tien-Hue Province. With the approval and guidance from the GVN's [Government of Vietnam] Office 33, the national coordinating body for international cooperation on the Agent Orange/dioxin issue, the Czechs began work in 2006 and have since spent over $500,000 to collect soil and animal blood samples to test for dioxin exposure.

The Czechs, who developed dioxin remediation expertise cleaning up domestic contamination, plan to spend an additional $500,000 over the next few years and would like to work with the United States and other donors on remediation activities as part of their ‘normal’ development assistance.

We have also heard that other donors are looking to getinvolved. [Martin Náprstek of the ČRA] told ESTHOffs that Germany and Austria were considering engagement nowthat the United States and other donors had initiated cooperative efforts with the Vietnamese. ...

See related articles:

Unfinished, dirty work at Spolana spawns Kč 550 mln lawsuit against Czech state
Greenpeace: Spolana remains among most polluted Czech sites


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