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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
Prepared by:

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

I. Introduction

In May 1999, a resident of Isla de Vieques (Vieques), Puerto Rico, requested that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) determine whether contaminants released from the United States Navy's (Navy's) bombing range pose a public health hazard. This request was submitted as a petition to the agency. ATSDR accepted this petition and has since been investigating public health concerns related to operations at the Navy's former bombing range.

ATSDR is responding to this petition in a series of public health assessments (PHAs) that examine what contaminants entered the environment, how these contaminants moved through the environment, and what levels of contamination residents might have contacted. ATSDR then uses this information to determine whether residents were exposed to levels of contamination that might cause health problems.

To be most responsive to the petitioner and the people of Vieques, ATSDR is publishing a series of PHAs that address very specific questions. This PHA focuses on the public health implications of exposure to air contaminants, by responding to four key questions that the petitioner and residents of Vieques have asked ATSDR. ATSDR's responses to these questions are found throughout Section V of this PHA.

Key Questions for this PHA
Section V.A: On days when bombing did not occur, did wind-blown dust from the LIA pose a health hazard?
Section V.B: Did contaminants released when the Navy used "practice bombs" pose a health hazard?
Section V.C: Did contaminants released when the Navy used "live bombs" pose a health hazard?
Section V.D: Did open burning and open detonation operations or the Navy's use of other chemicals (e.g., depleted uranium, chaff) pose a health hazard?

Though this document focuses on air quality issues, ATSDR has committed to evaluate other ways that contaminants from the bombing range might affect public health. ATSDR has already addressed, or plans to address, these other public health issues as follows:

  • In October, 2001, ATSDR released its final PHA addressing contamination in drinking water supplies and groundwater (ATSDR 2001a). This report indicated that the public drinking water supply on Vieques poses no apparent public health hazard. Copies of this report, which evaluate health issues in much greater detail, are available from ATSDR and from records repositories on Vieques and on the main island of Puerto Rico. The repositories are located at Biblioteca Publica on Vieques, the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust, and at the University of Puerto Rico School of Public Health.
  • ATSDR has evaluated the public health implications of exposures to soils on Vieques. In the final PHA (ATSDR 2003), ATSDR addressed exposures both for the residential population and for individuals who lived on the LIA between April 1999 and May 2000. That document concludes that there is no evidence that any residents of Vieques are being exposed, or were exposed, to harmful levels of contamination in soils.
  • 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 panel concluded that the available studies do not indicate cardiac health problems among fishermen from Vieques or Ponce Playa. The report summarizing the expert panel review (ATSDR 2001c) was released in October 2001. Copies are available by contacting ATSDR (1-888-42-ATSDR).
  • ATSDR also evaluated whether Navy training activities have resulted in contamination of local marine fish and shellfish. ATSDR's PHA on this topic summarizes data from an extensive sampling effort, in which fish and shellfish samples were collected from six locations around Vieques. Based on these sampling results, ATSDR concluded that it is safe to eat fish and shellfish caught in marine waters at Vieques (ATSDR 2003b).


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