By NBC News staff and wire reports
HANOI, Vietnam — Nearly four decades after the end of the Vietnam War, the United States and Vietnam on Thursday began cleaning up the toxic chemical Agent Orange on part of Danang International Airport.
The U.S. military sprayed up to 12 million gallons of the defoliant onto Vietnam’s jungles over a 10-year period during the war, and the question of compensation for the subsequent health problems is a major post-war issue.
Respiratory cancer and birth defects among both Vietnamese and U.S. veterans have been linked to exposure to Agent Orange.
Thursday marked the first time Washington has been involved in cleaning up Agent Orange in Vietnam.
Old enemies team up to battle Agent Orange
The U.S. government is providing $41 million to the project which will reduce the contamination level in 73,000 cubic meters of soil by late 2016, the ruling Vietnam Communist Party’s mouthpiece Nhan Dan daily said.
U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear said at a ceremony at the former American air base at Danang that the project showed that the two countries were “taking the first steps to bury the legacies of our past,” Voice of America (VOA) reported.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded contracts to two U.S. companies to work on the project along with Vietnam defense ministry officials, the U.S. Embassy said.
Danang in Vietnam’s central region is a popular tourist destination. During the Vietnam War, that ended in 1975, the beach city was used as a recreational spot for U.S. soldiers.
Return to Vietnam: Meeting a formerly faceless foe
Agent Orange was stored at Danang air base and sprayed from U.S. warplanes to expose northern communist troops and destroy their supplies in jungles along the border with Laos.
Over the next decade, other former U.S. air bases that stored Agent Orange are due to be cleaned up as well, VOA reported.
Reuters contributed to this report.