[News] Navy authorized to burn vegetation in Vieques

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 27 12:17:50 EDT 2009

Gracias a Deborah  Santana por traducciones al 
inglés...thanks to Deborah Santana for English translations


Navy authorized to burn vegetation in Vieques
By Maricelis Rivera Santos
El Vocero

May 21, 2009 11 AM AST

On May 15 he (Puerto Rico) Environmental Quality 
Board (EQB) granted the U.S Navy an exemption 
from regulations in order to allow burning of 200 
acres of land in the eastern end of Vieques 
Island, according to residents opposed to this action.

Vieques residents oppose this practice because 
they understand that it would exacerbate even 
more the precarious health conditions that a 
great part of the Vieques population, above all 
children and the elderly, as well as the environment.

They charge that the burning of vegetation is not 
compatible with the work of decontamination that 
this military force is carrying out in lands 
where they used to maintain a bombing range.

“The exemption attacks the ultimate goal of 
creating a natural reserve in the lands that they 
want to burn. It is relevant to mention that in 
these lands there are coastal lagoons, nesting 
areas for tortoises, birds and other animal 
species, many of which are endangered species,” 
they indicated in a press release (see below).

They said that the Navy claims that because of 
dense vegetation burning is the best way to find 
the bombs. But the residents do not believe this 
due to the Navy’s evident military power and available technology.

“We understand that the real and most plausible 
motivation for the Navy to request this exemption 
is economic, and not security or health,” they pointed out.

They warned that the Navy and the EQB claim that 
burning and open air detonation of munitions will 
not affect the health of the residents, but that 
the results of some air pollution dispersion 
models are not reliable because they contain various errors.

May 21, 2009
For Immediate Publication
Ismael Guadalupe (787.612.0723)
<http://cruz.nazario@upr.edu>Dra. Cruz María 
Nazario (<mailto:cruz.nazario at upr.edu>cruz.nazario at upr.edu)
<http://jorge1962cr@gmail.com>Dr. Jorge Colón 
(<mailto:jorge1962cr at gmail.com>jorge1962cr at gmail.com)
<http://espasas@gmail.com>Lcdo. Rafael M. Espasas 
García (<mailto:espasas at gmail.com>espasas at gmail.com)
<http://benuz_lau@yahoo.com>Lcda. Laura García 
(<mailto:benuz_lau at yahoo.com>benuz_lau at yahoo.com)
*EQB approves Navy plan to burn hundreds of acres of lands
The EQB (Puerto Rico Environmental Quality board) 
this past May 15 fave notice of approval for an 
exemption requested by the U.S. Navy to burn more 
than 200 acres of land in the east of Vieques.

Vieques residents oppose this practice because 
they understand that it would exacerbate even 
more the precarious health conditions that a 
great part of the Viequense population suffers, 
above all children and the elderly.  In addition, 
they oppose it for conflicting with the work of 
cleanup that the Navy is supposed to be carrying 
out. The exemption also attacks the ultimate goal 
of creating a natural reserve in the lands that 
that the Navy wants to burn. It is worth 
mentioning that these lands contain coastal 
lagoons, nesting areas for tortoises, birds, and 
other animal species, some of which are endangered species.

The Navy claims that because of dense plant 
growth in the area the best way to find the bombs 
is to burn all of the vegetation.  Given the 
great and evident military power and technology 
of this military force, we have difficulty 
accepting such an argument. We understand that 
the Navy’s real and plausible motivation for 
requesting this exemption is economic, ad not
security or health.

The Navy claims that open air burning will not 
affect the health of the residents of Vieques. It 
bases this claim upon results of some dispersion 
models that are used to evaluate the impact of 
burning on air quality. According to these 
models, no contaminant exceeds the permitted 
federal standard in two populated areas of 
Vieques, that is, the town of Isabel Segunda and 
the village of Esperanza. These federal standards 
are known as NAAQS (National Ambient Air Quality 
Standards). Consequently, what the Navy and the 
EQB understand and have outlined as their argument is that, since
according to dispersion models no contaminant 
exceeds the federally permitted maximum in both 
populations the people of Vieques will not be affected.

Nonetheless, the analysis made about the NAAQS 
contains various errors. Firstly, it doesn’t take 
into consideration multiple dangerous 
contaminants. It has been proven scientifically 
that exposure to various contaminants increases 
exponentially the effects. In other words, 
although individually each contaminate may not 
exceed the established limits, exposure to a 
“cocktail” of hundreds of hazardous chemical 
compounds may be highly prejudicial to health. 
Existing regulations do not contemplate this empirical and scientific reality.

According to the documents presented by the Navy, 
the combination of contaminants that are 
presently found in Vieques soils that will be 
released into the atmosphere by open air burning 
include aluminum, ammonium, vinyl acetate, acid 
acetate, formic acid, propanic acid, benzene, 
cadmium, chloride, cresol, chromium VI, carbon 
monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, 
phoraldehide, phenyl, vanillin, lead, mercury, 
methane, methanol, methylene, methylethylketone 
(2 butanone), nickel, nitrogen dioxide, fine 
particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, and zinc, among many others.

Although the models indicate that the air in both 
populations will cumply with federal regulations, 
contamination levels will indeed exceed permitted 
in practically all of Vieques lands east of these 
populations. The fact that established 
populations may not exist in those lands does not 
prevent the burning from having adverse health 
and environmental effects. Much land with 
agricultural capacity exists where the models 
indicate a great concentration of dangerous 
contaminants. Consequently these lands will see 
more contamination, which means that such 
contamination can directly and indirectly affect 
health via consumption of food cultivated there. 
It is ironic and extremely dangerous that as part 
of the cleanup work the soils will become more contaminated.

According to a study recently carried out by the 
Department of Biology of the University of Puerto 
Rico–Mayagüez, vegetation in areas bordering the 
bombing area is highly contaminated with heavy 
metals, to the point that the great majority of 
cultivated crops studies are not safe for human 
consumption. If this is the picture for lands 
that are indirectly affected with contamination 
caused by military practices, we can only imagine 
the amount of heavy metals that would be found in 
the lands directly affected by those practices, 
and consequently in the vegetation that the Navy 
now wants to burn at a rate of 100 acres per day.

The Navy’s own documents indicate that in the 
area to be burned there are more than 68 types of 
bombs, 8 types of rockets, 7 types of pyrotechnic 
material, and 14 types of explosives, among other 
military artifacts. When we speak of “types” we 
refer to classification, not quantities. Among 
all of the types of explosive military material 
deposited there, there are thousands of 
artifacts, not only in the bombing area but also 
in surrounding waters. The great majority of 
these artifacts are in an advanced state of 
corrosion, releasing multiple contaminants – 
above all, heavy metals – in the soils and the sea.

According to the EPA, the dispersion models for 
fires such as is proposed here are not reliable. 
(See *EPA, AP-42, Fifth Edition, Volume I, 
Chapter 13.1: Wildfires and Prescribed Burning*). 
Therefore, it is quite probable that some 
dangerous contaminants indeed exceed the limits 
permitted by NAAQS in both Vieques populations.

By definition, land cleanup work assumes that it 
not put the health of the population at greater 
risk.  The Superfund assigns hundreds of millions 
of dollars to carry out contamination studies and 
establish safe and secure plans for cleanup and 
contamination management. We do not see any 
reason that Vieques should be the exception. 
Approval of exemption is synonymous with putting 
the economic interests of the Navy above the 
right of Puerto Ricans, residents and visitors to 
Vieques to live in a healthy and just environment.

------ End of Forwarded Message

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