Improving the environment and community health in Vieques, Puerto Rico: A common effort after U.S. Military use


The island of Vieques, located at the east of Puerto Rico, was militarized by the US Navy during 60 years.  As a result of Navy military practices, exist many uncertainties that the high incidence of cancer in the population are related with the use of live bombing, storage of ammunitions, explosives, polluted sunken ships and bombs in marine surroundings, among other potential hazardous wastes in the island. Moreover, Vieques Island has been emarginated from health care services, due to its separation from the main Island Puerto Rico. In 2002, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, conducted a health assessment and concluded that there is no apparent public health hazard. However, seven years later, in November 2009, ATSDR has signaled its intent to modify some its earlier conclusions about health risks to residents of the Island of Vieques. The “double health injustice” in Vieques require a powerful strategy as Community Base Participatory Research (CBPR). There is a need of collaborative research partnership approach that involves equitably and meaningfully all partners in every step of the process.

To see the complete Commentary go to:

Thanks for your comments,

María Ortiz, PhD Public Health

PUBH 8165-3

Dr. Thron

Walden University


4 Responses

  1. A complex environmental problem treated with a very good understanding & knowledge of it. The multisectorial approach, excellent for this kind of issues in which technology did not solve it. Nevertheless, the resources and political issues could be overcome to implement it. Sometimes, we need to think out of the box. I love to read your expostion.

  2. For the past years Vieques has been associated not with a vacation retreat for residents of the Big Island (Puerto Rico) or other tourists. Is recognized as, an island with good people with bad health. Bad health, with unknown causes. Although many experts and professional representatives from different agencies (both federal and local) had visited the area and estipulate different hypothesis about the health issues of the islanders, no final or concrete decision has been made. As the author clearly states Vieque’s situation has been attended by different means and although many people recognize it as a health problem, the author brilliantly acknowledges it but also recognize it as an environmental problem and more important as an environmental justice problem. I am so glad to have read articles like this one that attend important problems still happening in Puerto Rico.

  3. The term environmental justice” clearly applies to the situation faced by the Vieques’s communities since the latest 1940s. Although the presence of the US Navy gave the people of Vieques sources of employment through business it was also true that little they new about the health impact the military practices had on their long term health. As professor Ortiz clearly describes, state political interest were a key factor for the long time it took to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) through the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to accept and published in the 2009 the public health hazard of such military practices. Having said that, it is also important to emphasize how difficult it can be to establish a cause-effect relationship between environmental related substances and health outcomes. Since multiple substances can be present in the environment, identifying the causal agent can be challenging. Other subjects’ specific variables such as gender, age and genetic susceptibility can also affect toxic effects of such substances and therefore the establishment of the causal relationship. The isolation of the Vieques’ communities and poor access to health services was also crucial since health baseline data could have not been available making harder to establish the health effect of the military practices. As a researcher and professor I also agree with the author that there is a need of collaborative research partnership as well as political strategies to prevent other communities from facing environmental injustice such the one encountered by Vieques.

  4. Vieques is other example ,similar to hundred places around the world,where the political and military considerations leave behind the human and ecological protection of our society. It is necessary to apply the technology and the scientific knowledge available in the Academy for rejecting the deception of the data presented by federal agencies and environmental (?) consultants. Your article reveals the important role of the Academy for solving environmental problems when the people have no confidence in the state and federal authorities.

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