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U.S. Government Must Prioritize Health of People in Vieques While Engaged in Cleanup Efforts of Military Toxins

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U.S. Government Must Prioritize Health of People in Vieques While Engaged in Cleanup Efforts of Military Toxins

Location: 
New York, NY

CONTACT: Christiaan Perez, cperez@latinojustice.org, 212-739-7581

New York, NY– LatinoJustice PRLDEF submitted a public comment in May to the U.S. Navy detailing the ongoing health concerns of residents in Vieques affected by the Navy’s continued use of open-air burning and open detonation (OB/OD) as its preferred method of fulfilling its “clean-up” obligations to address over sixty years of military activities, including detonation of armaments on the island. Residents in Vieques continue to live with the long-term consequences of decades of weapons testing by the Navy, which have been exacerbated by their half-hearted clean-up tactics that ignore, and even aggravate, the health concerns of the people of Vieques. After much advocacy, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on an Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020 that would authorize budgeting $10 million for closed detonation chambers to be used in the clean-up efforts in Vieques. If passed, this would signal an initial step towards a more responsible clean-up approach.

For decades, the Navy tested countless armaments that were built with toxic materials such as Agent Orange, depleted uranium, white phosphorus, mercury and other heavy metals. In response to the massive community outcry of protests, sustained civil disobedience and international pressure, the U.S. government in 2003 finally ceased its formal weapons testing.  However, the federal government’s explosion of bombs has continued.  Instead of defusing the bombs and removing them, the Navy has instead chosen to conduct open-air detonations, further contaminating the environment and negatively affecting an already disproportionately sick population.

“For over 75 years, the Navy has bombed the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico – either actively or as part of so-called clean-up practices.  Residents of Vieques have long protested the Navy’s decades-long superficial clean-up tactics, which not only tend to be the cheapest but also the most contaminating for those who live, work and raise families in Vieques. To this day, the Navy refuses to accept any responsibility for what has been internationally recognized as unlawful and harmful behavior to viequenses. Until they are challenged yet again to stop looking for the cheapest easiest way to cleanup one of the most expensive Superfund sites in the United States, the lives of viequenses will continue to be disposable for them,” said Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“It is impossible for the people of Vieques to accept the preferred alternative by the Navy and EPA for the removal action of UXO 12 and 14. Although this area comprises more than 4,800 acres of hazardous waste, the modus operandi of the Navy is the burning of vegetation and open-air detonation. The people of Vieques have denounced for decades the toxic damage this practice has produced on our community, causing a health crisis.  We have no hospital in Vieques to provide health care services to the victims. The open burnings and open detonations are an attack on our human rights to health and development,” said Myrna Pagan of Vidas Viequenses Valen, a local community group that advocates for the well-being of the residents of Vieques.
 
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LatinoJustice PRLDEF works to create a more just society by using and challenging the rule of law to secure transformative, equitable and accessible justice, by empowering our community and by fostering leadership through advocacy and education. For more than 40 years, LatinoJustice PRLDEF has acted as an advocate against injustices throughout New York and beyond. To learn more about LatinoJustice, visit www.latinojustice.org.

Background Documents

  1. Public Comment Regarding the Need for a clean-up approach that prioritizes the health and well-being of the people in Vieques
  2. National Defense Authorization Act 2020 (NDAA)
  3. Amendment to NDAA that provides funding for Vieques clean-up