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Public Health Assessment
Drinking Water Supplies and Groundwater Pathway Evaluation,
Isla de Vieques Bombing Range,
Vieques, Puerto Rico

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October 16, 2001
Prepared by:

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

VI. ATSDR Child Health Initiative

ATSDR recognizes that infants and children may be more sensitive to environmental exposure than adults in communities faced with contamination of their water, soil, air, or food. This sensitivity is a result of the following factors: 1) children are more likely to be exposed to certain media (e.g., soil or surface water) because they play outdoors; 2) children are shorter than adults, which means that they can breathe dust, soil, and vapors close to the ground; and 3) children are smaller, therefore childhood exposure results in higher doses of chemical exposure per body weight. Children can sustain permanent damage if these factors lead to toxic exposure during critical growth stages. ATSDR is committed to evaluating their special interests at sites such as Vieques as part of the its Child Health Initiative.

Based on a thorough review of the available data pertaining to drinking water for the residents of Vieques, ATSDR concludes the following concerning children:

  • If children drink water from Well 3-7, they may be exposed to harmful levels of nitrates and/or nitrites which can cause serious health effects for children because nitrite interferes with oxygen uptake in blood (EPA 1995). Children, especially infants, should not drink water from this well. PRDOH has issued a health advisory for Well 3-7 and informed residents that water from this well is not safe to drink. For a full discussion on the exposure potential, please read the "Nitrate/Nitrite" section in the "Evaluation of the Impact of Water Quality on Public Health" discussion under "Question 2: Is the groundwater on Vieques safe to drink?".
  • ATSDR did not identify any other situations that would result in adverse health effects in children from the drinking water pathway.
  • ATSDR is also addressing the needs of children through educational efforts about environmental health and other health issues in the schools. As mentioned in the public health action plan, ATSDR has initiated work with school officials to identify and address environmental health educational needs of children and families.


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