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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

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, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was requested (petitioned) by a resident of Isla de Vieques (Vieques), Puerto Rico 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. ATSDR conducted a site visit to Vieques in August 1999 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 resident's petition and initiated a public health assessment (PHA) to investigate public health concerns related to operation of the Navy's bombing range on Vieques.

An ATSDR PHA includes a review of chemical releases from a facility or site and a determination of whether members of the public come into contact with these chemicals. If the review of the environmental data shows that people have or could come into contact with hazardous substances, ATSDR scientists then evaluate whether there will be any harmful effects from these exposures. This process may be lengthy, especially when addressing complex environmental issues. In order to be responsive to the resident petitioner and the people of Vieques, ATSDR will publish focused PHAs that will address specific questions as data become available. These PHAs are focused on specific pathways of potential human exposure to contaminants. Any exposures identified while developing the focused PHAs will be considered together to ensure the evaluation of the total exposure to a chemical, even if that exposure comes through several pathways.

This PHA defines the issues to be addressed on Vieques in this and subsequent focused PHAs. One of those issues defined in this PHA is the concern residents have expressed about how activities at the Live Impact Area (LIA) could affect the quality and safety of drinking water on Vieques. ATSDR realizes that other potential sources for contamination (e.g., local industries, car exhaust, municipal landfill, and farming/cattle ranching) exist on the island. However, these other sources are not discussed in this PHA unless they are determined to constitute a health concern. The focus of this report is to answer the petitioner's concern regarding potential contamination from the LIA.

Currently, water supplied to the residents of Vieques is piped in from the mainland of Puerto Rico. Water resources used by residents of Vieques in the past include groundwater wells and rainfall collection systems that are still used to a lesser extent today. This PHA fully addresses the current water supply and groundwater well usage. However, additional modeling and data collection are needed for the evaluation of the impact, if any, of Navy bombing operations on rainfall collection systems on the island. This information will be evaluated in a future PHA addressing the potential for chemicals to move through the air to the populated areas of Vieques. Additionally, future work will also address the potential for chemicals to be incorporated into the food chain and be carried to the communities in the food they eat.

A very important aspect of the public health assessment process is to define and address health concerns of community members. Throughout the public health assessment process, ATSDR has been working and will continue to work with the community to define specific health issues of concern. On multiple trips to the island, ATSDR has met with a variety of individuals and organizations, including local officials, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, leaders of women's groups, school educators, fishermen, and businessmen. ATSDR also met with individual families who live on the island to understand their health concerns. Meeting with community members is critical to determine health issues of concern and to assess the environmental health issues on Vieques. Discussions with the community have also helped define ways in which ATSDR can provide information to the community on issues of health concern. Throughout the process, ATSDR will work with physicians, nurses, and school officials to provide educational materials that will benefit the communities and support the overall public health of residents of Vieques.

This document is a result of ATSDR's evaluation of drinking water and groundwater resources on Vieques. This information was presented for public comment in a draft dated February 20, 2001. This focused PHA on drinking water and groundwater addresses the comments received during the public comment period in Appendix F.


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