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Public Health Assessment
Air Pathway Evaluation,
Isla de Vieques Bombing Range,
Vieques, Puerto Rico
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August 26, 2003
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Because children often are at greater risk than adults for being exposed to toxic chemicals, and because more than 10% of the residential population at Vieques is children (age 6 and under), ATSDR's exposure and public health evaluations for this site specifically considered children's health issues. In general, children are more likely than adults to suffer from adverse health effects due to environmental exposure for several reasons, such as:
- Children's developing bodies can be particularly sensitive to toxic exposure during certain critical growth stages, especially when children are exposed to chemicals known to cause developmental effects (e.g., lead).
- Children weigh less than adults. As a result, when children and adults ingest or inhale the same amount of chemicals, children receive a greater dose (on a pound of contaminant per pound of body weight basis) than adults. For many chemicals, this higher dose causes a greater likelihood for developing adverse health effects.
- Because children play outdoors more than adults, they are often more likely to come into contact with contaminated soils and to inhale greater amounts of airborne pollutants.
For these reasons, ATSDR specifically considered children's health issues in two critical steps of the public health assessment process. First, when comparing levels of air pollution to health-based comparison values (e.g., see Table 4), ATSDR identified comparison values that are protective of children's exposures and of health conditions more common in children (e.g., asthma), to the extent they are available. For instance, ATSDR used EPA's air quality standards for particulate matter and lead when evaluating the air sampling data on Vieques. These standards were developed to protect the health of sensitive populations, including children.
Second, when evaluating scenarios with ambient air concentrations that exceeded or were near to health-based comparison values, ATSDR's toxicological evaluations considered the most current information on health hazards associated with exposures, usually as documented in the "Children's Susceptibility" section of ATSDR's Toxicological Profiles.
With this approach, ATSDR ensured that its review of environmental health issues would consider any specific children's health issues at Vieques. Although ATSDR found that children on Vieques are exposed to environmental contamination from many different sources, the levels of inhalation exposures are far too low to cause adverse health effects. In other words, ATSDR's evaluations found no evidence that chemicals released from the Navy's military training exercises pose any unique health hazards for children. Nonetheless, as a prudent public health measure, ATSDR recommends that air sampling continue to take place at Vieques to ensure that exposures that might present a public health hazard do not occur among the population, including children. Section IX of this report provides more details on this recommendation.