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Studies Link "Rare Illness", Agricultural Poisoning To Navy

Doctors Link "Rare" Illness To U.S. Navy Exercises On Vieques

January 15, 2001
Copyright © 2001
EFE News Services (U.S.) Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Source: World Reporter (TM)

San Juan - Residents on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques are suffering from "rare" cardiovascular pains linked to an illness that could have been caused by noise coming from the U.S. Navy firing range there.

This finding was made public on Monday by Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Calderon, who presented the results of a study conducted by scientists from Ponce Medical Sc Color hool concluding that fishermen on Vieques exhibit symptoms of so-called vibro-acoustic disease (VAD).

According to one of the researchers, Dr. Guillermo Tirado, VAD occurs in persons who have been exposed for long periods to sounds louder than 100 decibels at frequencies of less than 500 Hertz, with the damage being greater if the sound waves strike a body while it is in the water.

VAD was first detected in 1979 at state-run aircraft plants in Portugal, Tirado said.

Portuguese physician Nuno Castelo Branco, a pioneer in the study of this condition, observed its effects on workers in a factory making jet engines.

He recorded that the technicians suffered from involuntary movements as well as neurological, behavioral, cardiovascular, immunological, gastro-intestinal and respiratory disorders every time the engines - with their accompanying noise - were activated.

For the recent study, doctors chose two groups of 50 fishermen, one based on Vieques , off Puerto Rico 's east coast, and the other in the southern city of Ponce.

The men in the respective groups came from demographically comparable populations and had similar lifestyles.

Researchers found that 49 of the 50 men from Vieques displayed a thickening of the pericardium - one of the membranes surrounding the heart - four times greater than that seen in the men from Ponce. Doctors described this condition as "rare."

Moreover, the Vieques fishermen also presented other cardiovascular anomalies, such as heart-valve deficiencies, at a rate 32 times that of the members of the Ponce group.

Though researchers did not directly link the Navy bombardments, with their 170-decibel noise level, to the abnormalities, they did say that there is "something" on Vieques that does not exist elsewhere in Puerto Rico , given that the only variable between the two groups of subjects was place of residence.


U.S. Navy Poisoned Vieques, Says Study

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
Inter Press Service

January 12, 2001
Copyright © 2001
Global Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN - The United States Navy has poisoned the Puerto Rican island-town of Vieques and ruined its agriculture sector, according to a just released scientific study.

Sponsored by the University of Puerto Rico 's Mayaguez campus (RUM) and Casa Pueblo, a grassroots organization, the study has found that vegetation on the island is unfit for human consumption as a result of U.S. Navy activities.

The study's authors, Elba DIaz and Arturo Massol-Deya, took samples of vegetation, both wild and agricultural, from civilian lands, including pumpkins, bananas, mango, yucca, pineapples and peppers, and analyzed them in the RUM's laboratories.

They found that the plants were polluted with toxic elements like lead, cadmium, cobalt, nickel, manganese and copper. All of these are harmful to human life. Lead, for example, damages the renal, reproductive and central nervous systems.

The people of Vieques , located off the south-east coast of Puerto Rico , suffer from unusual health problems and have abnormally high rates of lupus and asthma. The cancer rate is 26.9 percent above Puerto Rico 's average, according to the Puerto Rico Health Department.

"There is no way to exonerate the navy now," commented Massol-Deya after the study was released this week. The Casa Pueblo-RUM team and the navy's opponents are convinced that the pollution in the civilian area of Vieques is caused by military training activities on the firing range.

"Vieques is the best example of destruction and environmental injustice in the Americas. The U.S. navy (has) destroyed coral reefs, thalasia beds, lagoons, mangroves, coconut groves, beaches, endangered species, fish and other marine organisms," said the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques in a recent communique.

"We can describe the situation in Vieques as a human and ecological catastrophe," said Casa Pueblo director Alexis Massol. "Casa Pueblo has carried out its duty of informing the Puerto Rican people. Now it's up to the Puerto Rico and United States governments to assume immediate responsibility regarding the consequences of 60 years of military practice in Vieques ."

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