A Forgotten Health Crisis
by American Values Network, Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 09:43:55 AM EST
Health care may headline the national agenda in all but one area: the health crisis of Vieques. From 1941-2003, the United States Navy used the island of Vieques as a bombing range for test military exercises. Now, sixty-two years of exposure to napalm, depleted uranium, and agent orange leaves an alarming toxic health legacy for the Vieques people, 9000 United States citizens.
Even though the former bombing range is now a wildlife refuge, chemical residue remains in the island’s air, water, soil, crabs, fish, goats--and in the residents themselves. In a hearing addressing the failures of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Rep. Alan Grayson testified in April, “The health statistics of Vieques show the consequence of those toxins . . . Infant mortality in most of Puerto Rico is decreasing, but in Vieques it is increasing and it has been increasing since 1980. And a 2001 study looking at the hair of the resident of Vieques show that 73% of these human beings were contaminated with aluminum and 30% of the children under 10 years old show toxic levels of mercury.”
Where can our fellow citizens turn for help? More than 7000 Vieques residents have filed lawsuits against the US government when the Navy refused to pay for their medical care. However, the Navy denied their claims that exposure to bomb-related toxins, including arsenic, lead, and mercury posed health risks. For years the government hid behind flawed science to argue that the island was not contaminated, but now even its own agency responsible for those studies is stating what independent scientists at Yale, University of Georgia, the University of Puerto Rico and elsewhere have been arguing all along – that there are serious gaps in the government’s original findings. And despite his campaign pledge to help the people of Vieques, the Obama Justice Department is asserting sovereign immunity, hiding behind the archaic idea that “the king can do no wrong.”
This summer, America heard about the health care debate, but how many Americans heard about the health crisis of their fellow Vieques citizens? Did we hear that Puerto Rico Senator Jorge Suárez and the President of the Puerto Rico Senate Thomas Rivera Schatz were urging President Obama to fulfill his promises to address the Vieques health crisis? Poverty already isolates the Vieques people. Poor health care should not as well.
Tonight CNN will air the second part of a major investigative report on the health crisis on Vieques at 8pm.
In 2003, the public pressured the Navy to pull out of Vieques. Public pressure can perhaps be positive again. Will we listen to the testimony of the Vieques people and plead their case? Watch the CNN story and visit www.americanvaluesnetwork.org/viequescnn to learn more and take action.