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Petitioned Public Health Assessment
Soil Pathway Evaluation,
Isla de Vieques Bombing Range,
Vieques, Puerto Rico

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February 7, 2003
Prepared by:

Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

I. Introduction

A request from a concerned individual to evaluate a site is received through a written document known as a petition.
In May 1999, a resident of Isla de Vieques (Vieques), Puerto Rico, requested (petitioned, see text box for definition) the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to determine whether hazardous substances from the detonation of munitions at the United States Navy (Navy) bombing range on the island pose a public health threat. In August 1999, ATSDR conducted an initial site visit to Vieques to meet with the petitioner, tour the island and bombing range, and gather available environmental data. As a result of this site visit, ATSDR accepted the petition and since then has been investigating public health concerns related to the Navy's training activities on Vieques.

ATSDR is responding to this petition in a series of documents known as public health assessments (PHAs). PHAs examine chemicals that enter the environment, how they move through the environment, and the levels that residents might encounter. ATSDR then uses this information to determine whether residents or visitors are exposed to levels of contamination that might cause health problems.

This PHA addresses the public health implications of exposure to soil contaminants through incidental ingestion or dermal contact. More details about the soil pathway can be found in Section IV. Evaluation of the Soil Exposure Pathway. The issue of heavy metal uptake in plants and livestock from Vieques is addressed in Section V. Community Health Concerns.

Although this report focuses on soil quality issues, ATSDR has committed to evaluate other ways chemicals from the bombing range might affect public health. ATSDR has already addressed, or plans to address, the following public health issues:

  • In October 2001, ATSDR released the PHA addressing contamination in drinking water supplies and groundwater (ATSDR 2001b). This report concluded that the public drinking water supply on Vieques poses no public health hazard. However, high nitrates and nitrites, most likely resulting from agricultural pollution, in one private drinking water well indicate a health concern for children and pregnant women if they drank water from that well. The report evaluates these health issues in greater detail. Copies are available by contacting ATSDR (1-888-42-ATSDR), on ATSDR's Web site (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/vieques/vie_toc.html), and from records repositories on Vieques. The repositories are located at Biblioteca Publica (Calle Carlos Lebrum, Vieques), the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust (Flamboyan Street, Vieques), and at the University of Puerto Rico's School of Public Health (San Juan, Puerto Rico).
  • In July 2001, ATSDR, the Ponce School of Medicine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sponsored an expert panel review to address whether an association existed between place of residence (Vieques or Ponce Playa) and morphological cardiovascular changes among fishermen. The report summarizing the expert panel review was released in October 2001 (ATSDR and PSM 2001). Copies are available by contacting ATSDR (1-888-42-ATSDR) and on ATSDR's Web site (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/NEWS/viequesheartreport.html).
  • In September 2002, ATSDR released the PHA addressing contamination in locally caught fish and shellfish from Vieques for public comment. In this report, ATSDR documented the results of the July 2001 sampling event and determined that consumption of fish and shellfish from Vieques represents no apparent public health hazard. While several metals were detected in some of the fish and shellfish, the concentrations that were present were too low to be of health concern. The report evaluates these issues in greater detail. Copies are available by contacting ATSDR (1-888-42-ATSDR), on ATSDR's Web site (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/vieques/vie_toc.html), and from records repositories on Vieques.
  • In September 2002, ATSDR released the PHA addressing public health implications of exposure to air contaminants that could have been released from the Live Impact Area (LIA). In this report, ATSDR determined that the air exposure pathway at Vieques presents no apparent public health hazard. ATSDR found that the residents of Vieques have been exposed to contaminants released during the Navy's military training exercises, but these exposures are far lower than levels known to be associated with adverse health effects.

An important aspect of the public health assessment process is defining and addressing health concerns of community members. Throughout the process ATSDR has been, and will continue to work with the community to define specific health issues of concern (see Section II.G). Discussion with community members has also helped define ways in which ATSDR can provide educational materials and information to protect the public health of Vieques residents.


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