While we would like to be encouraged by the recent release of the 405-page report from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR, a part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control) regarding Vieques, Puerto Rico, we are once again extremely disappointed with the ATSDR’s conclusion that they "could not identify a relationship between military activities and health problems experienced by the island's residents." We believe there is indeed evidence indicating a clear link between the U.S. Navy's six decades of military activities and bombing on Vieques, including napalm and depleted uranium, and the ongoing health crisis there. Many others have joined us at Green Cross International and Global Green USA in expressing disappointment with the conclusion, including The Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico, Congressman Pedro R. Pierluisi, and respected members in the scientific community. Vieques is a small Caribbean island off the east coast of Puerto Rico. The eastern third of the island was used as a training and bombing range for the U.S. Navy and its allies, including NATO and Latin American navies, for the sixty years following World War II. The western third of the island was a U.S. naval base, while some 10,000 U.S. citizens resided in the middle third of the island. After a decade of vehement protests, the US Navy closed the base and began limited remediation in 2003.
The ATSDR's objective examination of the data might legitimately conclude that "cause and effect" has not been proven yet. But the study does not conclude this and appears not to be evidence-based or properly peer-reviewed. A prominent Puerto Rican physician who was involved in treating and documenting the population of Vieques for many years, had this to say about several of the ATSDR recommendations: "[They] demonstrate a lack of consistency and impractical health recommendations, which give rise to a number of questions. For example, the report states that women of reproductive age who consume 14 ounces of fish may be exposing their fetuses to teratogenic concentrations of mercury, while those consuming 12 ounces weekly are not: How can a housewife in Vieques, let alone a scientist or technician, differentiate between a total 12 or 14 ounces of fish in one week's meals? Why are the women of Vieques, and not those in the neighboring coastal areas of Puerto Rico, contaminated with mercury? Exposure and contamination must be local... very local indeed. What is the scientific value of the ATSDR recommendations?"
While we are disappointed with the ATSDR's conclusion that old and new data do not point to a relationship between military activities and the health of the Viequenses, we are encouraged that additional studies are called for. The ATSDR’s acceptance of the need for additional studies underlines the importance of Green Cross continuing its work in this area and insisting that the clean-up of munitions on and around the island continue, as well as the research into the possible causal relationship between the military activities and the well-documented health crisis on the island of Vieques.