Posts Tagged “vieques”

December 9, 2011
CONTACT: Todd Jurkowski
407.451.9857 (cell)

(ORLANDO, Fla.) – Former congressman and current congressional candidate Alan Grayson (D-Orlando) expressed outrage at the report on Vieques issued by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The federal agency announced Thursday that its investigation concluded that there is no evidence linking decades of U.S. Navy bombing exercises on the tiny island to an increase in health problems for the people who live there.

“This is a disgrace. It’s arrogant and dangerous for the ATSDR to dismiss the scientific evidence on the effects of more than sixty years of bombing. Instead, these bureaucrats are trying to shift the blame to utterly implausible reasons,” said Grayson.

A study by the Puerto Rico Health Department concluded the cancer rate among people on Vieques is 27 percent higher than for those on the main island, despite no significant differences in lifestyle. (The island of Vieques is separated from the main island by only ten miles of water). People on Vieques also show evidence of elevated risks for high blood pressure, diabetes and epilepsy.

The ATSDR report suggests that the health problems are caused by eating fish with high levels of mercury, but denies that those elevated mercury levels are the result of contamination from uranium, Agent Orange and other toxins used in the bombing exercises that ended in 2003. The ATSDR suggests that people on Vieques eat fish low in mercury to reduce the potential health effects.

“That’s the best advice of the ATSDR? Really? Maybe the ATSDR should invest in Chick-Fil-A and put up billboards that read, `Eat Mor Chikin,’ quipped Grayson.

The ATSDR report did acknowledge that some areas of the Vieques bombing range still present a health risk.

The ATSDR will accept public comment for 90 days before releasing its final?report. People can submit a comment via email to

Grayson is running for a new U.S. House of Representatives district that is expected to be created in Orlando.

Todd Jurkowski
Communications Director Committee to Elect Alan Grayson
(407) 451-9857 (cell)

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Obama Facing Voter Backlash Over Vieques Island Deadly Contamination Class Action Lawsuit, Appealed In U.S.

President Barack H. Obama’s claimed that the federal government can’t be held accountable for the unlawful use of Vieques Island as a testing ground for deadly toxins and weapons by the U.S. Department of the Navy for 63 years. Read More

U.S. Finds No Link Between Vieques Bombings and Health Risks
Published: New York Times December 8, 2011

A federal agency announced Thursday that it had found no evidence that decades of live fire and bombing exercises by the Navy on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques had caused health problems documented among its residents.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, released the results of a review that confirmed a conclusion reached by the agency in 2003 that heavy metals and explosive compounds in the island’s soil, groundwater, air and fish posed no health hazards. Read More

Congressman Steve Rothman: More Questions Than Answers in ATSDR Report

December 8, 2011
CONTACT: Aaron Keyak
office: (202) 225-5061
cell: (202) 905-6361

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ) released the following statement on the new health assessment by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico:

The new Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) report should have addressed the concerns of the residents of Vieques and the alarmingly high rates of serious and disabling health care problems on the island. I am disappointed that the ATSDR report provided more questions than answers. It is astonishing that the ATSDR seems to still hold that decades of bombing on the island by the US Navy with military ordnance pose no harmful health effects to the people of Vieques.

The report, in acknowledging many still unanswered questions concerning the health of the people of Vieques, made a number of recommendations on which additional efforts should be undertaken. As the author of the Vieques Recovery and Development Act – which would set up a toxic research center and hospital, among other measures on the island – my bill’s and this report’s recommendations for additional action should now be fully supported and financed by the Congress and the Executive Branch. I will continue to work with the Obama Administration to ensure that the current recommendations from both the ATSDR and the White House Taskforce on Puerto Rico on Vieques are carried out as soon as possible.

We must deliver justice to the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico. It is unacceptable that the ATSDR report still leaves the residents of Vieques without a clear explanation of the health risks associated with decades of US Navy activity on their island. The time for the US government to address the serious health care concerns of the people of Vieques is long overdue.


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Between Ceramic and Glass: Artwork by Sara Cook and érica Boulogne
Saturday, 19 November, 2011 7.30 PM

Live ‘bomba’ musica/dance, refreshments

Entrance Free

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Bridge to Vieques
The Senate approved by acclamation Tuesday a measure for a referendum to ask Vieques and Culebra residents whether they approve of a proposal to build a bridge between the two municipalities and the Puerto Rico mainland.
Read the “Bridge to Vieques” article in the Puerto Rican Daily Sun

Rum Diary Review
“Depp as Thompson is captivated by a tiny island called Vieques  in 1960. He was moonlighting for a rich, corrupt developer played flawlessly by Aaron Eckhart. In his novel The Rum Diary. Thompson writes, ‘I was being paid $25 a day to ruin the only place I’d seen in ten years where I felt a sense of peace.’ ”
Read Rum Diary review from

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This article from the Dana Point Times illustrates something about the Navy years on Vieques that’s not always realized by newly arrived residents to the island. That is, that Vieques did not benefit from the Navy occupation. It was merely a target. The ship in this article, typical of all the ships that came to Vieques, sailed from Roosevelt Roads, fired at Vieques, leaving only the residue of its munitions. It then sailed away to “one of the Caribbean islands” or returned to Roosevelt Roads on the Big Island where they spent their money.

“…Chris signed up to be on a destroyer after his training, but ended up on an attack cargo ship, Achernar, named for the ninth brightest star in the sky. The purpose of this ship was to provide training for assaults with landing craft. They practiced on the island of Vieques, part of the Puerto Rico islands. Achernar carried supplies, tanks and landing craft for these practice assaults, and it became known among the troops as the Vieques ferry. After the exercises, the sailors would get leave on one of the Caribbean islands. At one point, Chris missed getting back to the ship before it sailed….” Read article

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The Huffington Post
Brendan DeMelle
Freelance writer and researcher
Posted: September 29, 2009 03:20 PM

New Justice Department Policy Signals Hope for Justice in Vieques

The Justice Department announced a much-needed new policy last week that will impose strict limits on government agencies’ use of the state secrets privilege in order to block lawsuits for national security reasons. Under the new rules, any military or espionage agency wishing to assert the privilege in order to dismiss a lawsuit or restrict evidence in court must meet a higher standard of proof that it would pose “significant harm” to national security. The new policy also requires the approval of Attorney General Eric Holder for any attempt to use the privilege in court.

“This policy is an important step toward rebuilding the public’s trust in the government’s use of this privilege while recognizing the imperative need to protect national security. It sets out clear procedures that will provide greater accountability and ensure the state secrets privilege is invoked only when necessary and in the narrowest way possible,” Holder said in a statement announcing the policy.

Reining in the use of this privilege, which was abused heavily during the Bush administration, is a step in the right direction. For far too long, the government has hidden behind disingenuous claims of national security threats in order to deny justice for those injured or wronged by our own military. The new DOJ policy indicates that the Obama Justice Department understands this problem and is working to correct it.

This policy shift may also provide a ray of hope for the residents of Vieques, who are suing the federal government over the U.S. Navy’s 60-year bombardment of their island for training purposes. The Navy bombing left behind a toxic legacy of contamination and disease that hampers the island’s economy and continuously threatens the health of its residents.

Attorneys representing more than 7,000 citizens and the municipality of Vieques have presented extensive scientific evidence of the harmful impacts on the environment and on the food supply of the fish-loving islanders. They have presented ample evidence of the health crisis caused by the contamination left behind by the Navy, including astronomical rates of cancer, birth defects and other pollution-related illnesses which plague residents. The damage done to the island’s tourism-driven economy is also readily apparent.

Public outrage over the government’s neglect of the plight of Vieques residents has compelled both houses of the Puerto Rican legislature and a special committee of the United Nations to pass resolutions demanding justice for the people of Vieques and a thorough clean-up of their island.

Despite all of this evidence and public pressure, there is one major obstacle standing in the way of justice for the people of Vieques – the government’s use of an archaic  “sovereign immunity” defense – which would block the lawsuit on national security grounds if accepted by the trial judge currently deliberating the case. This outlandish use of the national security defense was initiated by the Bush administration and, so far, upheld by the Obama Justice Department.

While the new DOJ policy implementing more rigorous review of the government’s use of national security claims will cut down on such abuse going forward, Attorney General Holder must intervene in the Vieques case to make sure that his legacy is not tarnished by a prime example of such abuse happening right now. Dropping the sovereign immunity defense in the Vieques case would demonstrate this administration’s commitment to ending the overzealous use of national defense claims.

The government should immediately retract its foolish sovereign immunity defense in the Vieques case and allow the people of Vieques a fair shake with justice. Better yet, the Justice Department could settle the matter now, allowing the expedited cleanup of the island to commence and the economic and physical impacts endured by the islanders to begin to be remedied.

There is no acceptable excuse for the government’s delay in providing relief for Vieques. President Obama promised such remedies in a letter to the people of Puerto Rico in February 2008. The Puerto Rican House and Senate have both recognized that the U.S. v. Sanchez lawsuit – in which the government is claiming sovereign immunity – provides an excellent mechanism for the government to settle and provide remedies to the people of Vieques.

Six decades of bombing trashed this once-pristine paradise, and it is up to the Obama Justice Department to make amends with the victims who have sacrificed greatly for this nation by enduring the Navy’s bombardment and ongoing contamination.

Attorney General Holder must act now to correct this injustice.

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I write to formally request what I have asked in meetings and conversations over past months: the Environmental Quality Board (PR) not authorize the open burning of vegetation in Vieques proposed by the US Navy. This would provoke irreparable damage to the health and well being of Vieques residents, since it is widely known that the vegetation in question, located in the Live Impact Area, is contaminated with toxic chemical substances and materials that represent a threat to human health.

It is worth emphasizing that the Navy plans are contrary to the laws and regulations that protect the environment and health in Puerto Rico. For this reason the only way the Navy can carry out these acts is if the EQB approves an exemption to 105 regulations that prohibit this type of open burning. The EPA will only enter into this issue to evaluate the Navy burn if approved by the EQB.

As Mayor of Vieques, I request this exemption and exception to the regulations not be authorized. I ask for total fulfillment of the laws and regulations that protect our environment and our people, to not allow the Navy to continue to effect the health of Vieques people, especially considering the serious health problems resulting from decades of Navy bombing with all types of toxic and chemical arms, including Napalm and depleted uranium.

The damage to Viequenses health as a result of military practices by the US Navy has been documented by several Puerto Ricana and US scientists and by medical testing on a large number of Viequenses who show presence of heavy metals in abnormally high levels. As examples we cite recent declarations by Dr. John Wargo, Dr. James Poner, Dr. Arturo Massol-Deya y la Dra. Carmen Ortiz Roque, summarizing the relationship between Navy use of heavy metals, toxics and chemical agents in Vieques and the negative effects on the health of its  inhabitants. We include copy of these sworn affidavits.

As you are aware, several Representatives fro the US Congress have expressed concern about the health crisis here that resulted from UN Navy practices and have ordered the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease  Registry (ATSDR) to reexamine their Vieques studies done more than six years ago that minimized Navy’s impact on Viequenses’ health and that given the overwhelming evidence about causal relationships between military toxics and the health crisis, the case should be reopened for a new look, action currently ongoing.

Lastly, the present petition for the EQB not to authorize proposed open burning in Vieques is not just the position of the Mayor of Vieques. The same position has been expressed by the Vieques Municipal Legislature as well as several civic and community organizations in Vieques and elsewhere. Therefore, I am confident the agency you direct will adhere to the laws and regulations that protect our environment and people and deny the US Navy’s petition to burn lands and vegetation on Vieques.


Evelyn Delerme Camacho


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Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques
cels. 787 375-0525 787 206-0602 f, 787 741-8787
E mail: <>
10 August 2009

Press Release

Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry visits Vieques to revise its studies and conclusions on military toxics and health on the island municipality.

Dr. Howard Frumkin, Executive Director of the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) – part of the Center for Disease Control (CDC/Atlanta), will meet in Vieques with community leaders Wednesday, August 12.

Participants in the meeting with Dr. Frumkin will include members of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques (CRDV); Vieques Women’s Alliance; Restoration Advisory Board; Vieques Commerce Association; scientific advisors to the Vieques community from the University of Puerto Rico, Dr. Jorge Colón and Dr. Cruz María Nazario; lawer Flavio Cumpiano, CRDV advisor in Washington, DC. The meeting will take place Wednesday, August 12 at 7:00 PM at the Punta Mulas Lighthouse in Isabel Segunda, Vieques.

Six years after the cessation of bombing n Vieques, this community struggle now to get the US Navy to clean up the island municipality of the military toxics left behind after six decades of war practices. The Viequenses demand, also, that government agencies – both federal and Puerto Rican – guarantee their right to live in a safe environment and in good health.

Wednesday’s meeting in Vieques corresponds to strong criticism of ATSDR by a congressional commission that forced its Director, Dr. Howard Frumkin, to point to the need for “taking a fresh look at the 2001 studies” done by ATSDR on Vieques.

These studies indicated that Vieques’ health crisis – for instance, a 27% higher cáncer incidence compared to the rest of Puerto Rico – had no relation to contamination produced by the US Navy. ATSDR studies about Vieques have been criticized by several scientists from Puerto Rico and the United States. Members of a congressional commission – the Subcommission for Investigations of the Science and Technology Commission of the House of Representatives – have criticized ATSDR studies about Vieques and urged Dr. Frumkin to reexamine his agency’s studies and Vieques’ health situation, and to take into consideration the many scientific studies by Puerto Rican professionals and others that indicate high levels of heavy metals in the environment, the food chain and in the people of Vieques.

Community groups reject Navy practices of open air detonation of unexploded ordnance as part of the ‘clean up’. They argue that the explosion of bombs over the past two years has added to the level of contamination. They also oppose Navy plans to burn hundreds of acres of vegetation in the ex bombing range on Vieques to facilitate location of bombs and other dangerous artefacts.

Since the ATSDR studies and conclusions were made public more than six years ago, suggesting that toxic substances dropped by the Navy on Vieques do not represent a health risk, the Navy has rested on these studies to avoid responsibility for an adequate clean up, descontamination and Vieques health crisis. The visit to Vieques by the ATSDR director coincides with the consideration in the Puerto Rico district of the US Federal Court, of a lawsuit by seven thousand Viequenses against the Navy for health damages. Lawyer John Arthur Eaves, Jr., legal representative for the plaintiffs, will also be in Vieques this week to participate in meetings, including on with clients and others interested on Thursday, August 13 as 6:00 PM at the island’s Multi Use Center.

Contacts: Nilda Medina 787 206-0602

Robert Rabin 787 375-0525

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Sunday, August 9th, 2009
Where? Cayo Blanco (across from the ferry in Isabel).
Time: FREE Buffet: 5 PM until 6 PM
Pool Tournament: 6 PM until finished.

There will be Chili, Home Grown Vieques Salad, Freshly Baked Bread and Dessert (All prepared by local chefs and chefettes.) So far the chili makers are Derrick from Cantina Reina and Gladys from Black Beard Sports. We can use one more. Are you a chili maker?

Then, around 6 PM, because it was so much fun last time, there will be a POOL TOURNAMENT.
$10. to play – $50.00 First Prize with an Ostentatious Trophy.

There will be a BOOKIE to take bets on the winner. He’ll be the shifty eyed guy wearing a hat that says “BOOKIE.”

We need 2 servers and a host/hostess.
We can use another dessert.

If you can help … great!

If not, please join us for an evening of food and fun. All welcome.

Money raised will go to the Incubadora, the Vieques Children’s Band and

Vieques Baila

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August 7, 2009
A New Battle on Vieques, Over Navy’s Cleanup

VIEQUES, P.R. — The United States Navy ceased military training operations on this small island in 2003, and windows no longer rattle from the shelling from ships and air-to-ground bombings.

Gone are the protests that drew celebrities like Benicio Del Toro and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Real estate prices and tourism have boomed: a 157-room Starwood W hotel is expected to open by December on the island, which is seven miles east of Puerto Rico’s mainland.

But Vieques, once the largest training area for the United States Atlantic Fleet Forces, is still largely defined by its old struggles. Once again, residents have squared off against the American military.

The Navy has begun removing hazardous unexploded munitions from its old training ground by detonating them in the open air. It also proposes to burn through nearly 100 acres of dense tropical vegetation to locate and explode highly sensitive cluster bombs.

But what could have been a healing process has been marred by lingering mistrust. As the Navy moves to erase a bitter vestige of its long presence here, residents assert that it is simply exposing them again to risk.

“The great majority of emergency room visits here last year were for respiratory problems,” said Evelyn Delerme Camacho, the mayor of Vieques. “Can they guarantee that contaminants or smoke won’t reach the population? Would we have to wait and see if there’s a problem?”

The cleanup comes as the local Vieques government and most of the island’s 9,300 residents pursue claims against the United States government for contamination and for illnesses that they assert are linked to pollutants released during decades of live-fire and bombing exercises beginning in World War II.

Given the history of grievances, many locals are aghast that the Navy’s methods involve burnings and detonations whose booms can be heard in some residential areas, setting people on edge. They have spoken out at public hearings and in legislative resolutions.

But Christopher T. Penny, head of the Navy’s Vieques restoration program, said the unexploded bombs are too powerful to be set off in detonation chambers. And he said that experiments to cut through the dense vegetation with a remote-control device had not had much success.

Environmental Protection Agency officials who are overseeing the project say that such on-site detonations are typical of cleanups at former military training ranges. Jose C. Font, an E.P.A. deputy director in San Juan, says they pose no threat to human health as long as limited amounts are exploded each time, the wind is calm and air quality is monitored constantly.

In 2005 the training ground was designated a federal Superfund site, giving the E.P.A. the authority to order a cleanup led by the party responsible for the pollution.

The unexploded munitions lie o n 8,900 acres of former Navy land on the eastern end of the island, including 1,100 acres of what was once the live impact area. The E.P.A. says the cleanup could take 10 years or more.

Workers are using historical records, aerial photography and high-power metal detectors to locate the munitions before cutting through the foliage and detonating them. So far, the Navy says, it has identified 18,700 munitions and explosives and blown up about a third of those.

The E.P.A. says that the hazardous substances associated with ordnance that may be present in Vieques include TNT, napalm, depleted uranium, mercury, lead and other chemicals, including PCBs.

Residents’ concerns about the cleanup are heightened by suspicions of a link between the contaminants and what Puerto Rico’s health department found were disproportionately high rates of illnesses like cancer, hypertension and liver disease on the island.

In 2003, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which assesses health hazards at Superfund sites, concluded that levels of heavy metals and explosive compounds found in Vieques’s soil, groundwater, air and fish did not pose a health risk.

But this year the registry agency said it would “rigorously” revisit its 2003 finding, and its director, Dr. Howard Frumkin, plans to visit Vieques on Wednesday to meet with residents.

Puerto Rico’s legislature, meanwhile, has asked President Obama to keep a campaign promise to “achieve an environmentally acceptable cleanup” and “closely monitor the health of the people of Vieques and promote appropriate remedies.”

Most contested here is a Navy request to the E.P.A. and the Environmental Quality Board in Puerto Rico to allow the controlled burn to clear vegetation and find bombs. The risk of accidental explosions, the Navy says, is too high for workers to do it by hand using chainsaws, machetes and trimmers.

“The issue is safety,” said Mr. Penny of the Navy. Many residents complain that they have not received enough information to feel reassured. Among them are a group that gathers on most evenings in a plaza of sand-colored buildings anchored by the church in Isabel Segunda, Vieques’s main town.

“We hear they are taking out bombs, but we haven’t been informed of what exactly is coming out of there and whether there’s more contamination when they get it out,” said Julio Serrano, 57, who works at the airport as an operations supervisor.

We need to be told clearly what’s in there.”

Yet some experts on military cleanups suggest that, rather than focusing on any short-term air quality problems, residents might consider the possibility of an accidental explosion that is years away.

“The real risk is that there’s no technology available that would guarantee that they’ve removed every piece of ordnance,” said Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, an assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill who has studied the risks of adapting former training ranges. “There’s no way to make that land safe for reuse unless it’s very restrictive.”

Other battles loom. Most of the 26,000 acres the Navy used to own on the eastern and western ends of Vieques — making up about three-fourths of the island — have been turned over to the Department of the Interior, which plans to maintain the land as a wildlife preserve.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has already opened up small portions of the area to the public as a wildlife refuge that includes gorgeous undeveloped beaches where sea turtles like the loggerhead and hawksbill nest.

But Mayor Delerme Camacho said that once the cleanup is over, Vieques’s residents want to be able to use the land for housing and ecotourism, too. Already, those eager to build have staked out makeshift claims with signs on trees within a chunk of 4,000 acres transferred by the Navy to the municipal government.

Though fishermen can now catch red snapper and yellowtail unfettered by the Navy’s target practice, and visitors have discovered the rural charms of a place where horses roam freely on the roads,

Vieques still has high rates of poverty and lacks a full-fledged hospital.

Ismael Guadalupe, 65, a retired teacher and leader in the long resistance to the Navy’s operations here, said that while the training is over, the fighting continues.

“As one of our sayings goes, `If we had to eat the bone, now we should be able to eat the meat,’ ” he said.

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