Isla de Vieques is part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, located about 7 miles east-southeast of the main island of Puerto Rico. Until May 2003, the U.S. Navy owned approximately half of the island and conducted military exercises that included live bombing. The live bombing exercises were conducted until April 1999 in a 900-acre area known as the Live Impact Area. The Navy conducted exercises with practice bombs from May 2000 to May 2003.
ATSDR's Vieques Evaluations (1999-2003)
In May 1999, an island resident asked ATSDR to evaluate whether any health problems in Vieques residents might be associated with potential releases of hazardous substances from military training activities on the island. Residents also voiced concern that contaminants from the bombing could travel from the Live Impact Area to the areas where they live, about 8 miles west of the Live Impact Area.
ATSDR evaluated the pathways most likely to result in exposure to the residents of Vieques, including
ATSDR prepared a separate public health assessment describing what investigators found for each of these pathways.
Based on a thorough review and evaluation of all relevant information pertaining to the pathways, ATSDR concluded that, overall, residents of Vieques might have been exposed to very low levels of environmental contamination. While people were most likely exposed to contaminants, the levels were so low that harmful health effects would be unlikely. At that time, ATSDR categorized exposure to environmental contaminants at Vieques as “no apparent public health hazard.” In 2009, ATSDR introduced new categories for sites that more clearly describe scientists’ findings. Today the pathways for Vieques would be classified “Exposure: no harm expected.” This category is used for sites where human exposure is occurring or has occurred in the past, but no harm to people’s health is expected.
ATSDR's Vieques Evaluation (2009-2013)
In 2009, ATSDR began updating its original findings in response to requests from Congress and others. Following a comprehensive review of environmental, biological, and health data from Vieques, ATSDR released a report in March 2013.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 of the available data and evaluation process 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.
- recommendations from the Scientific Consultation held in 2009 in Atlanta
- peer review by experts from Puerto Rico and others of the draft report
ATSDR received comments from the public on this report from December 8, 2011 to March 8, 2012. All comments were considered and addressed and are included in Appendix D of the report. The comments did not change ATSDR’s overall findings and recommendations.
ATSDR's review of the new and previous data still could not identify a relationship between military activities and health problems experienced by the island’s residents.
We believe that Viequenses are right to be concerned about their health, and for that reason we proposed certain actions that scientists, environmental and public health agencies could act upon.