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Navy Testing Poses Health Hazard In Vieques

November 4, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved. 

Re the Oct. 13 article Chemical testing a smoking gun for Vieques protests: The Herald deserves praise for addressing health issues on Vieques -- the Puerto Rican island that our government continues to use for bombing practice, even though people live within three to five miles of the bombing range.

The people of Vieques suffer from proven health problems such as high rates of cancer, heart disease, asthma and diabetes. But the article says that this is unsubstantiated.

According to a Puerto Rico Health Department study, the cancer rate in Vieques is 26.9 percent higher than in the rest of Puerto Rico. Epidemiologist Cruz María Nazario confirmed that Vieques children up to 9 years old had a 117 percent greater risk of contracting cancer than children on the mainland. For those between 10 and 19, the incidence of cancer is 256 percent greater.

A Ponce Medical School study reported that Vieques fishermen suffered ''cardiovascular anomalies.'' A 2001 study of vegetables and plants grown outside the bombing range by biologists Elba Díaz and Arturo Massol shows high levels of contamination from lead, cadmium (which causes hypertension and liver disease) and other heavy metals.

Released in March 2001, the University of Puerto Rico's Planning and Scientific and Technical Services health study shows that Vieques residents face a 73 percent greater chance of suffering from heart disease than mainland residents, 64 percent more likely to develop hypertension, 58 percent more likely to have diabetes and 18 percent more likely to be diagnosed with asthma.

Last October I served time in a maximum-security prison for trespassing on federal property in Vieques. In an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, I joined seven other Puerto Ricans on the bombing range and temporarily halted the bombing. I did this to help raise the conscience of Americans concerning the health, ecology and safety of the people of Vieques. I've returned five times; during my last visit, I got tear-gassed while protesting.

Thank you for telling the story of the island's struggle.


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