Cablegate: Fourth Annual Jac: Strong Progress On the Environment, Less

DE RUEHHI #1020/01 2710903
R 280902Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. 08 HANOI 1088 B. 07 HANOI 1476

1.(SBU) Summary. The Fourth Annual Meeting of the United
States-Vietnam Joint Advisory Committee on Agent Orange/dioxin
(JAC) reviewed an active year of cooperation on environmental
remediation and disabilities projects. The agreed-upon JAC minutes
highlighted that Agent Orange-related dioxin contamination was
limited to a few former U.S. airbases, noted the effectiveness of
exposure reduction measures at the Danang airport, while
environmental presentations reviewed positive preliminary results
from the Danang bioremediation pilot test. Several speakers noted
the need for greater action to determine the scope of and respond
to dioxin contamination at the Bien Hoa airbase. The JAC made less
headway on health issues as the Government of Vietnam (GVN)
delegation lacked participation from key health players and
continued to focus on non-science based claims linking dioxin
exposure to a wide variety of disabilities. Yet, we also made some
progress there, winning a GVN commitment to look at public health
responses to disabilities and securing a promise from the Ford
Foundation to fund these efforts. The JAC received extensive, and
fairly positive, coverage locally and internationally, with
Vietnamese media highlighting the Ambassador's opening address
detailing our fruitful engagement since the last JAC. End Summary.

Broad Participation

2. (U) The fourth annual JAC attracted nearly 30 participants from
the USG and GVN, including prominent scientific experts from EPA
and the CDC. While the Vietnamese delegation contained strong
participation on environmental issues from the Ministry of Defense
(MOD) and from Office 33, the coordinating body for GVN Agent
Orange/dioxin policy, key Vietnamese players on health issues,
notably, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Labor,
Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), failed to attend. USAID
detailed its environmental response plans at the Danang airport and
its implementing partners reviewed their ongoing disability support
efforts. Environmental contractors to the Ford Foundation and
Office 33, including Canada's Hatfield Consultants and U.S.-owned
Dynamic Solutions International, detailed recent sampling and
analysis at dioxin "hotspots" at former U.S. airbases. Several
other donors involved directly in Agent Orange/dioxin work or on
related disabilities projects, including the Ford Foundation, UNDP,
Irish Aid and UNICEF, joined the JAC meeting. [Comment: This broad
non-governmental participation had some downsides, however, as
certain entities continued to focus on provision of services to
Agent Orange "victims" and complained to the press about perceived
funding delays. End Comment]

JAC Minutes Reflect Limited
Environmental Contamination

3. (SBU) The JAC minutes signed by the two countries reflect their
consensus that there is no evidence of continuing dioxin
contamination in areas subjected to aerial spraying during the war
and that dioxin contamination appears limited to a few airports
where the U.S. military stored, loaded and transferred Agent Orange
and other defoliants at that time. Additionally, the minutes note
that the primary source of human exposure to dioxin at Danang was
through consumption of fish obtained by local residents from
airport lakes. Both sides agreed that efforts to limit dioxin
exposures at Da Nang airbase by preventing fishing in onsite lakes
had resulted in substantially lower dioxin levels in blood in
persons living around the airport.

Hatfield and MOD Sampling Provide
Further Evidence of Limited Contamination

4. (SBU) Hatfield Consultants, which has been working on Agent
Orange/dioxin issues in Vietnam since 1994, provided details on
recent dioxin sampling and analysis that it carried out for the GVN
with Ford Foundation Funding. Hatfield's most recent studies found
that dioxin contamination at the Danang airport is almost
exclusively limited to the previously identified areas at the
northern end of the airbase. Recent testing in areas at the
southern end of the airbase, associated with the 1971 Department of
Defense Pacer Ivy operation, found only one sample with elevated

HANOI 00001020 002 OF 003

dioxin levels [Note: Pacer Ivy packaged and prepared for removal of
all residual Agent Orange from Danang. End Note]. Similarly,
Hatfield sampling and analysis at Phu Cat airbase indicated only a
few samples at levels of dioxin contamination above internationally
accepted amounts. Additionally, Hatfield reported that the
majority of contamination at the Danang airbase was found at depths
of less than 30 centimeters, implying that the total volume of soil
to be remediated (and the related cost) may be lower than initially
estimated. [Note: MOD believes that additional sampling may show
contamination at deeper levels. End Note]. In other good news,
preliminary testing by MOD did not find dioxin contamination at
three other airbases (Tuy Hoa, Phan Rang, and Nha Trang) and
limited contamination at Ton San Nhat in Ho Chi Minh City. The only
news of concern came from Hatfield and MOD reports noting that
dioxin contamination in and around the military airbase at Bien Hoa
might be more widespread than previously detected.

Limited Exposures

5. (SBU) The Hatfield JAC presentation also highlighted limited
human exposures resulting from dioxin contamination in Danang.
With dioxin contamination at Danang largely limited to the northern
end of the airbase and the primary human exposure pathway through
consumption of contaminated fish and ducks caught by locals in the
lakes on the airport grounds, Hatfield told the JAC that a total of
50 people likely were exposed to dioxin contamination [Note: the
GVN has asked Hatfield to revisit this conclusion as it finalizes
its report. End Note]. Successful preventive measures already had
reduced those exposures and Hatfield noted that the construction of
a fence to prevent locals from fishing and harvesting aquatic
plants already had dramatically lowered dioxin levels in blood
samples near the airport.

Preliminary Success for Bioremediation Pilot Test
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (SBU) Scientists from EPA and the Vietnam Academy of Science and
Technology (VAST) presented preliminary results from the ongoing
bioremediation pilot test at Danang, which seemed to show that
microorganisms have been degrading dioxin [Note: MOD, which has
permitted the test at the military controlled airport, remains more
skeptical about bioremediation's potential. End Note]. If later
results are consistent with this finding, bioremediation may form a
cost-efficient remediation solution that can be modified in the
future to address Vietnam's growing level of contamination from
industrial pollutants.

Vietnam National Action Plan

7. (SBU) Office 33 Director General Dr. Lai Minh Hien presented a
summary of the draft National Action Plan for Overcoming the
Consequences of Agent Orange/dioxin in Vietnam (NAP) and asked that
JAC participants provide input. Per Dr. Hien, the NAP has
developed a schedule through 2020 to reach three primary goals:
completing an assessment of environmental and health consequences
of Agent Orange/dioxin; developing a system to remediate
contaminated areas, recover ecosystems subject to spraying during
the war and provide medical care to "victims" of Agent Orange; and
raising awareness and mobilizing resources. UNDP, which supported
the GVN drafting efforts, noted that the NAP contained many
principles (particularly in the environmental area) already agreed
to by parties focusing on the issue. UNICEF praised the effort but
suggested that efforts should focus on boosting support for all the
disabled instead of looking first at identifying "victims" based on
a self-assessment of exposure.

U.S. Details Concrete Projects

8. (U) As highlighted by Ambassador Michalak during his opening
remarks, the USG briefed JAC participants on the initiation of
several U.S.-funded activities over the past year. USAID and its
implementing partners detailed disabilities support programs in the
Danang area. Using money from the FY07 USD 3 million
appropriation, USAID has already provided USD 1 million for these
projects, obligated an additional USD 1 million from recent FY 09
funding, and committed another USD 1 million during FY 10, subject

HANOI 00001020 003 OF 003

to the availability of funds. USAID also advised that it will
soon announce the results of the procurement process for services
to conduct a joint environmental impact assessment with the GVN for
dioxin containment at Danang Airport and for developing engineering
designs, specifications and plans for construction of a secure
landfill and associated dioxin removal containment activities. This
contract will utilize the balance of FY 07 funding and will provide
the basis for expending FY 09 funding for environmental

Lagging Health Progress

9. (SBU) The JAC health discussions reflected the continuing divide
in approaches between the two governments. Despite repeated
reminders to our GVN interlocutors before the JAC, neither MOH (an
official member of the 6 person GVN delegation) nor MOLISA sent
representatives to the meeting. Vietnamese presenters continued to
focus on the sufferings of Agent Orange "victims" without providing
any support linking those sufferings to dioxin exposure.
Vietnamese participants in the JAC Health Task Force, held
concurrently with the overall JAC session, took a softer stance,
but asked the USG to focus USAID projects only on assistance to
Agent Orange "victims." Failure by the GVN to move off of its
"victims"-first agenda makes it unlikely that we will be able to
agree to a long-term strategy for dioxin responses, as proposed by
Vice-Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Nguyen Xuan
Cuong in his opening remarks, in the near future. Yet, at the same
time, we did make some inroads. The Health Task Force established
that while humanitarian-based medical and clinical services form a
necessary foundation to cooperative work in health, long-term
solutions must focus on building Vietnamese institutional capacity
to address all disabilities and birth defects regardless of cause,
using a modern, public health framework. The agreed upon minutes
reflect the need for effective surveillance, prevention and
exposure reduction programs to reduce the overall disabilities
burden in Vietnam, while the Ford Foundation subsequently agreed to
help fund work by the Health Task Force to put those programs into
practice near the hotspots.

Positive Media Reports

10. (SBU) This year's JAC received wide coverage locally and in the
international media. Press reports on the JAC, which focused on
cooperation and U.S. engagement, contrasted with the earlier
reporting surrounding Vietnam's first "Agent Orange Day," held on
August 10. While Vice Minister Cuong's opening speech criticized
the perceived slow pace of disbursing U.S. assistance and the need
to focus on "victims," most Vietnamese newspaper coverage devoted
more space to Ambassador Michalak's recitation of concrete U.S.
actions. The final joint press conference also led to positive
reporting in 50 news articles, on line reports, blogs, and TV
broadcasts, including several constructive comments from the
Vietnamese JAC co-chair, Dr. Le Ke Son. We expect to continue the
run of good press when USAID announces the remediation preparation
contractor later this month. Over the past few months, several
international journalists have contacted the Embassy seeking
information for more in-depth and, we hope, objective pieces on
Agent Orange/dioxin, and we will provide the good environmental
news from the JAC to these reporters.


11. (SBU) JAC presentations indicated that dioxin contamination may
be limited to a few locations at a few airbases, that exposures to
such contamination may be fairly limited and that reasonably
affordable prevention and remediation activities may remove ongoing
contamination risks. Taken together, this information will allow
us to start to calculate the universe of all potential
dioxin-related remediation in Vietnam and, eventually, the total
financial resources necessary (and what proportion of that the
United States may cover) to address the environmental impacts of
war-related dioxin contamination. Vietnamese lack of substantive
engagement on health issues is discouraging and a reminder that the
GVN is unlikely to wind down its 40 year Agent Orange propaganda

© Scoop Media

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