Speaking Out for Vieques
Vieques is a small U.S. territorial island located eight miles from the main island of Puerto Rico. The people of Vieques are American citizens who have made tremendous sacrifices for our country’s national security. For over 200 days per year from 1941-2003, the Navy used significant portions of the Island of Vieques for training exercises and munitions testing. During this period, the Navy tested nearly every kind of munitions employed by the military, dropping over 80 million pounds of ordnance on Vieques from 1984-1998 alone. The Navy has refused to disclose the complete list and amounts of all materials sprayed, dropped, tested, or disposed of on the island and surrounding ocean during the 62-years of weapons testing.
In 2003, following intense public pressure, the Navy pulled out of Vieques. But they left behind the multitude of substances found in the munitions that had been dropped on the island and which are known to be toxic to humans, especially to developing children.
The pervasiveness of the contamination and the poverty of most of the population leave Viequenses with no way to escape the poisonous substances. The toxins are all around them in the air they breathe, the water they drink, the soil where they grow crops, and the food they eat. Mothers pass the poison on to their children in their breast milk. Children on Vieques are 25% more likely to die in infancy that those on the main island of Puerto Rico. While infant mortality rates have been decreasing on the main island, in Vieques they are increasing. The people of Vieques have a 30% higher rate of cancer, a 381% higher rate of hypertension, a 95% higher rate of cirrhosis of the liver, and a 41% higher rate of diabetes than the inhabitants of Puerto Rico’s main island. When they become ill with cancer, Viequenses must travel hours by ferry and bus to the main island for chemotherapy because there are no clinics on Vieques that offer treatment. The Navy ignores reliable scientific data and says that the levels of toxic contamination are safe.
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The history of the Navy’s activity on Vieques reveals that:
- The island has been contaminated — The weapons tested up-wind and up-current from the populated areas contained known toxins including napalm, agent orange, depleted uranium, white phosphorous, various chemical weapons, arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, antimony, magnesium, TNT, PCBs, RDX, barium, cyanide, solvents, pesticides, and minute particles of a fiber-glass-type substance made from aluminum known as “chaff” that was routinely released into the air by military aircraft during maneuvers.
- Citizens have been contaminated — Based on hair samples from Viequenses in 1999, Dr. Jorge Colón of the University of Puerto Rico, found that 34% of the population has toxic levels of mercury, 55% are contaminated with lead, 69% with arsenic, 69% with cadmium, 90% with aluminum, and 93% with antimony. All are substances found in types of ordnance used on the island.
- People are suffering — The people of Vieques have a 30% higher rate of cancer, a 381% higher rate of hypertension, a 95% higher rate of cirrhosis of the liver, and a 41% higher rate of diabetes than the inhabitants of the main island of Puerto Rico. Hair testing has shown that a majority of those living on the island suffer from at least one form of heavy metal poisoning from toxins such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and aluminum. Approximately half of the indigenous population suffer from two or more heavy metal poisoning.
- Children are dying — The infant mortality rate is 25% higher for babies born on Vieques than elsewhere in Puerto Rico.
- Rare illnesses are common — Milivy Adams, a five year old, who died from neuroblastoma, has become a symbol for the Viequenses’ plight. By the age of three she had had nine tumors removed from her body. The odds of contracting neuroblastoma in the United States are 1 out of 100,000; in Vieques there have been four recent cases on an island of only 9,300 people, or a rate 40 times greater than the national average.
- The Navy ignores serious flaws in its data — Dr. John Wargo of Yale University found that the studies conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and relied on by the Navy do not meet many standards for scientific research, failed to take relevant data into account, and demonstrated what is hard to explain as anything but an intentional attempt to avoid the truth. Water samples that were tested were piped to Vieques from the main island of Puerto Rico. Tests for air contaminates were performed on days without active bombing. Soil and sea water samples were taken up-wind and up-current from the testing grounds instead of in the populated areas that are down-wind and down-current. And the food toxicity studies presented conclusions that inexplicably ignored their own findings (e.g., ATSDR found mercury levels in fish that far exceed the National Academy of Science’s safe levels for consumption but concluded that fish are safe to eat, and it found dangerously-high levels of multiple toxins in crabs but then concluded that all shellfish were safe to eat based solely on their single test for arsenic in lobsters).
- Studies directly refute the Navy’s claims — Independent peer reviewed studies by researchers at Yale, University of Georgia, University of Puerto Rico, The San Juan College of Engineers, and Puerto Rico College of Physicians and Surgeons, which have been reported on NBC and CNN have revealed that the water, land, air, and food that Viequenses come in regular contact with have dangerous levels of heavy metals and other contaminants directly linked to the extremely elevated health problems being observed in Vieques.