Field Work: Munitions in Vieques

Our Environmental Security and Sustainability team chaired a meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, last week to discuss sea-dumped munitions. We are addressing the health of the citizens of Vieques in relationship to munition contaminants on the islands of Vieques and Culebra off the east coast of Puerto Rico. The U.S Navy used the eastern end of Vieques as a practice bombing range from the 1940s until 2003. Live fire training, ended in 2001 at the insistence of many Puerto Ricans, and the former bombing range and related facilities were transferred to the municipality of Vieques and the U.S. Department of Interior in 2001. Millions of munitions, both exploded and unexploded, still remain on land and in coastal waters. The islands of Vieques and Culebra also have very high rates of chronic diseases -- several times the rates on the main island of Puerto Rico -- leading some experts to question if there is a causal link between relatively high disease rates and toxic pollution from the bombing range. Our meeting was to provide some insight into this ongoing legacy of 20th century military training and draw some conclusions regarding cleanup of sea-dumped munitions.