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ATSDR Press Room

ATSDR releases findings on Vieques


Vieques County, Puerto Rico

Thursday, December 08, 2011

View page in Spanish (Español)

Following a thorough review of environmental, biological, and health data from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released a report for public comment today.

From 1999 through 2003, ATSDR examined whether past activities of the U.S. Navy had exposed Vieques residents to harmful levels of chemicals. In 2009 the agency began updating its original findings in response to requests from Congress and others.

ATSDR's review of the new and previous data still could not identify a relationship between military activities and health problems experienced by the islands residents.

"ATSDR understands that Viequenses are concerned about serious health problems on the island and that they want to know if these health effects are related to U.S. military testing from previous decades," said Christopher J. Portier, Ph.D., ATSDR Director.

The agency carefully reexamined data that were available previously and also conducted a literature review because numerous studies had been published since the agency's 2003 report. The review considered

  • information about contaminants in air, water, soil, plants, and marine seafood;
  • laboratory test results to measure the amount of certain chemicals in residents' bodies; and
  • reports about chronic health conditions, new cancer cases, and deaths.


A key finding in the report is that some residents of Vieques could be exposed to high levels of mercury from eating fish. The new report found that most Vieques reef fish contain low to moderate amounts of mercury. The levels of mercury in fish are likely from regional levels in the environment and not from past military activities.

ATSDR's review also found that some chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes, cancer, and deaths caused by cancer may occur more often among the population of Vieques when compared to the rest of Puerto Rico. Limitations of the available analyses make interpreting these findings difficult and uncertain.

"We believe that Viequenses are right to be concerned about their health, and we are proposing certain actions to ensure their health," Portier added.

To support improvements in health, ATSDR recommends that scientists, environmental and public health agencies:

  1. educate the Vieques community about choosing types of fish known to be low in mercury;
  2. conduct a survey about resident's fish consumption and other nutritional habits;
  3. consider a limited and focused biomonitoring investigation; and
  4. explore options for monitoring and tracking the number of people on Vieques with asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic diseases.

Due to the many nutritional benefits of fish, women and young children should include in their diets fish or shellfish that are low in mercury, such as reef-caught snapper and parrotfish. ATSDR recommends that pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant should eat up to 12 ounces of fish weekly and children younger than age 7 should eat up to 4 ounces of fish weekly.

ATSDR is providing a 90-day public comment period for the draft Vieques report: An Evaluation of Environmental, Biological, and Health Data from the Island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. The public comment period will end on March 8, 2012.

The report is available for review at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/vieques/2011_report.html. Copies of the report have also been placed at two locations for review:

  1. Biblioteca Electrónica of Vieques
    Calle Carlos LeBrun 449
    Vieques, PR00765
  2. Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust
    Calle Flamboyan 138
    Vieques, Puerto Rico 00765

Comments received during the public comment period (without the names of who submitted them) and ATSDR's responses to these comments will appear in an appendix to the final report. Names of those who submit comments, however, will be subject to release in response to requests made under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Electronic comments may be sent via http://www.regulations.gov or emailed to ATSDRRecordsCenter@cdc.gov. To submit comments on regulations.gov, docket control number CDC-2011-0014, please follow the instructions on the site.

Comments can also be mailed to:

Attention: Rolanda Morris
RE: Draft Vieques Report: An Evaluation of Environmental, Biological, and Health Data from the Island of Vieques, Puerto Rico
ATSDR Records Center
1600 Clifton Road, NE (MS F-09)
Atlanta, GA 30333

For more information, call 1-800-CDC-INFO.

ATSDR, a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, evaluates the potential for adverse human health effects due to exposure to hazardous substances in the environment.

###

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Related PHA & HC For this Press Release


Cabo Rojo Ground Water Contamination Site
-Fact Sheet
Document Date: 9/27/2012 - PHA  [PDF - 410 KB]

Cabo Rojo Ground Water Contamination Site
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Cabo Rojo Ground Water Contamination Site
-Hoja Informativa
Document Date: 9/27/2012 - PHA  [PDF - 279 KB]

Cabo Rojo
-Evaluation of Indoor Air Sampling at Cabo Rojo Ground Water Contamination Site in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico
Document Date: 5/22/2012 - HC  [PDF - 1106 KB]

Cabo Rojo Ground Water Contamination Site
Document Date: 2/24/2012 - HC  [PDF - 208 KB]

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