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History of the Navy in Vieques

US health agency to take 'fresh look' at Vieques


The Associated Press
Saturday, November 14, 2009; 5:58 PM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A U.S. agency has overturned its 2003 research that
said no health hazards were caused by decades of military exercises on
Vieques, a bombing range-turned- tourist destination off Puerto Rico 's east

The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said Friday it
intends to "modify" some of its earlier research on Vieques, where the U.S.
and its allies trained for conflicts from Vietnam to
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Iraq .

The agency, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, used
its own studies to conclude in 2003 that there was essentially no health
risk from the bombing range - a conclusion widely criticized by academics
and residents on the 18-mile-long island of less than 10,000 people.

"We have identified gaps in environmental data that could be important in
determining health effects," director Howard Frumkin said in a statement
posted Friday on the agency's Web site. "The gaps we found indicate that we
cannot state categorically that no health hazards exist in Vieques. We have
found reason to pose further questions."

Frumkin, who did not specifically identify the research gaps, said the
agency will take a fresh look at the issue. He also said the agency will
work with Puerto Rican health officials to conduct more in-depth health
evaluations and will recommend monitoring to determine if Vieques residents
were exposed to harmful chemicals.

For decades, warships and planes hammered the Naval Training Range on
Vieques with live rounds before it was closed in April 2003 after years of
protests over environmental risks and the 1999 death of a Puerto Rican
civilian guard killed by an errant bomb.

Robert Rabin, who moved to Vieques from Boston in 1980 and helped lead the
protests against the bombing range, said he and other islanders had an
"attitude of cautious celebration" about the agency's announcement.

"We hope this will lead to the best possible cleanup and allow people here
to receive the best health care," Rabin said Saturday from his Vieques home.
"They are using hopeful language, and this island really needs help."

The U.S. agency reevaluated its earlier finding after being asked in April
by U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman, a New Jersey Democrat who said independent
studies and reports had documented a health crisis on Vieques.

The military fired and dropped millions of pounds of bombs, rockets and
artillery shells, including napalm, depleted uranium and Agent Orange, on
Vieques. A cleanup began in 2005 to clear thousands of unexploded munitions
from the former range, which is now a Fish and Wildlife Service refuge, and
the island has placed new emphasis on tourism.

Some 7,000 past and current Vieques residents have filed a federal lawsuit
seeking billions of dollars in compensation for illnesses they have linked
to the bombing range.

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