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Court says Army failed to test seaweed and other marine resources in Makua

October 4, 2011 

The AP reports:

A federal judge has ruled the Army’s study of contamination of seafood harvested near Makua Valley was satisfactory except for two ways.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled the Army didn’t test seaweed and other marine life eaten by residents of the Waianae Coast to determine whether they pose health risks from live-fire military training at Makua.

[...]

Friday’s ruling says the Army violated the settlement agreement by only testing species of seaweed that Waianae residents don’t eat and not testing “other marine resources” such as octopus and sea cucumber.

Uranium travels nerves from nose to brain

March 2, 2011 

Two articles in Environmental Health News review technical reports on new discoveries about the effects of depleted uranium on the body.  In “Uranium travels nerves from nose to brain”, the author writes:

Radioactive uranium that is inhaled by soldiers on the battlefield and by workers in factories may bypass the brain’s protective barrier by following nerves from the nose directly to the brain.

Nerves can act as a unique conduit, carrying inhaled uranium from the nose directly to the brain, finds a study with rats. Once in the brain, the uranium may affect task and decision-related types of thinking.

This study provides yet another example of how some substances can use the olfactory system – bypassing the brain’s protective blood barrier – to go directly to the brain. Titanium nanoparticles and the metals manganese, nickel, and thallium have been shown to reach the brain using the same route.

In another article, “Depleted and enriched uranium affect DNA in different ways,” the author writes:

Meticulous research identifies for the first time how two main types of uranium – enriched and depleted – damage a cell’s DNA by different methods. The manner – either by radiation or by its chemical properties as a metal – depends upon whether the uranium is processed or depleted.

This study shows that both types of uranium may carry a health risk because they both affect DNA in ways that can lead to cancer.

Why does it matter? Regulatory agencies determine safe uranium exposure based on the metal’s radioactive effects. Currently, safe exposure levels for workers and military personnel are based on enriched uranium – which is the more radioactive form and is considered to have a higher cancer risk than depleted uranium. Uranium exposure has been shown to affect bone, kidney, liver, brain, lung, intestine and the reproductive system.

Yet, many people are exposed at work or through military activities to the less radioactive, depleted form. They may not be adequately protected based on current methods that evaluate uranium’s health risks.

The study found that depleted uranium could cause genetic damage by its toxicity rather than its radiological effect:

However, the depleted uranium had a different type of effect. It altered the number of chromosomes in the cell. These effects are due to improper migration of chromosomes when cells divide. This type of damage – called aneugenic damage – was not related to the amount of radiation the cells received and was likely caused by the metal properties of uranium.

The methods used in this study clearly provide a new way to assess the different types of genetic harm caused by uranium. The findings will help ferret out whether the genetic damage caused by the depleted uranium also carries a high risk of causing cancer, which is something those who work with or are around the metal want to know. Further study is warranted to truly assess human health risks.

California study shows low levels of perchlorate affect infants

December 12, 2010 

A new study shows newborns in perchlorate contaminated areas have a 50% chance of having impaired thyroid function. Perchlorate is an oxidizer used in rocket propellant that attacks the thyroid. It has been detected in groundwater in Nohili, Kaua’i near the caves where munitions are stored. I think it was also detected in Schofield (Lihu’e). The levels detected in Hawai’i were below the federal limit (around 25 parts per billion) but above the California limit (5 ppb).   Needless to say, when asked about conducting further investigations and cleaning  up the contamination, the military dismissed the perchlorate contamination as insignificant. The Department of Defense has fought efforts to set tougher standards for perchlorate.  Here’s an excerpt from a Press Enterprise article on the California infant health study:

A new analysis by state scientists found that low levels of a rocket fuel chemical common in Inland drinking water supplies appear to be more harmful to newborn babies than previously believed, prompting calls for a tougher limit for tap water.

Scientists with the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment examined records of blood samples drawn from the heels of 497,458 newborns in 1998 as part of a California disease-screening program.

The researchers found that the babies born in areas where tap water was contaminated with perchlorate — including babies in Riverside and San Bernardino — had a 50 percent chance of having a poorly performing thyroid gland, said Dr. Craig Steinmaus, lead author of the study published in this month’s Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

Report on the Army’s Pohakuloa DU Presentation Aug. 31, 2010

September 1, 2010 

Jim Albertini wrote the following report on the protest and Army presentation regarding it’s depleted uranium health risk assessment for the Pohakuloa Training Area.  Meanwhile, KITV reports that:

The Army said it determined the majority of the 714 rounds containing radioactive waste were likely fired at Schofield barracks on Oahu, not the Big Island.

So, the hazard is greater on O’ahu.

KITV also reports that “The Army also said it’s working on cleaning up any depleted uranium residue in the training facility.”

But this is a lie. The Army has said that it would not clean up the DU contamination.

And despite the Army’s assurances that the DU contamination is safe, the Army safety waivers for access to the Schofield Range indicates that there is a very real danger.  The Big Island Weekly reported several weeks ago:

But the Army took a different position when representatives from several Native Hawaiian groups requested access to the West Range at Schofield Barracks on O’ahu on May 27. Before being allowed into Schofield, all were asked to sign a waiver of responsibility acknowledging, among other things, that they knew DU was potentially hazardous to their health.”

“I fully understand and by my signature acknowledge that I understand, West Range at Schofield Barracks is currently constructing the Battle Area Complex (BAX) which includes clean up of unexploded ordnance (UXO) including potential chemical warfare munitions (CWM) and depleted uranium (DU)…,” the waiver read, in part. “I understand that the ENTIRE RESERVATION IS DANGEROUS AND UNSAFE due to the presence of surface and subsurface UNEXPLODED ORDNANCE and DEPLETED URANIUM; that there may be hazardous conditions and ordnance on or under the surface of the Reservation; and that unexploded ordnance may explode nearby causing serious bodily harm, injury and death and that depleted uranium particles can be ingested from the soil or inhaled by airborne dust that may cause adverse health effects.” [Words capitalized as in original.]

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Report on the Army’s Pohakuloa DU Presentation Aug. 31, 2010

Today’s Army presentation “By Invitation Only” at the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) about Baseline Human Health Risk Assessment for Depleted uranium (DU) was a real dog and pony show.  Of the 50-60 in attendance, it appeared that I was the only token opposition community member.  Most in attendance were military people of various types and military contractors, along with a scattering of elected officials including State House Reps Jerry Chang, Mark Nakashima, Faye Hanohano, Clifton Tsuji and County Council person Pete Hoffman. There may have been a few others that I did not recognize, but clearly there were a lot of people in military uniform –Army, Marines, and representatives of the Navy, perhaps Air Force too. A separate meeting was held for the press prior to the “invited guests” meeting

Prior to the 2PM presentation, nine community members held signs opposite the PTA main gate. Signs included: Stop Radiation Cover Up, Aloha Aina, Stop the Bombing, Military Swallowing Hawaii, Are you Breathing DU? DU Causes Cancer, birth defects, etc.  There were eleven screaming “Gathering of Eagles’ with over 30 large American flags hurling insults toward us on two bull horns from across Saddle Road. It’s amazing how disrespectful some people can be in the name of protecting “freedom & democracy” and “family values.”  Though Hawaii has paid a heavy price under US occupation, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan have it worse under U.S. bombs and widespread DU poisoning and destruction of their homes, infrastructure, and land.

The two highest ranking Army officials inside the meeting were Major General Michael J. Terry, Commanding Army General in Hawaii, and Col. Douglas Mulbury, Commander Garrison Hawaii.
The person who did the power point presentation was Greg Komp, Senior health physicist, Office of the Director of Army Safety, Washington, D.C. Komp is the same guy who was quoted in an Aug. 30,2007 Army News article (Army.Mil/News) who said, “Today DU is not used in military training, but in the 50s and 60s it was used anytime you needed a heavy weight.”   By his own admission there is reason to believe there is a lot more DU at PTA and other military ranges.  The Army said that DU has been banned in training since 1996.  But given the fact that Davy Crockett DU spotting rounds have been officially used in Hawaii since 1962 that leaves a lot of room for other DU rounds used besides Davy Crockett.

It appears that the Army really doesn’t want to know how much DU has been used at PTA.  It doesn’t want to risk having to shut down the base if it is determined that the presence of DU and the stew of other military toxins pose a threat to the health and safety of the troops who train at PTA and residents and visitors of Hawaii Island.  While the Army says that health and safety is the primary concern, in truth, it is continuing the military mission that trumps all other concerns. That’s why the community has been stonewalled from day one in this entire DU investigation.  The community has not been welcomed as equal partners.  The process has not been transparent and therefore the confidence of the community is sorely lacking when it comes to military assurances that ‘DU poses no health dangers.” Or that DU “hypothetically exposed persons are below EPA acceptable risk range.”

The military made health assurances to troops and residents in the early days of atmospheric atomic bomb testing, they said much the same thing about agent orange exposure during and after the war in Vietnam, Gulf War syndrome, etc. etc.. all to be proven eventually wrong, and in some cases deliberately misleading or lying to the troops and the public.

If the military really wants to be transparent, the Army need to come out of its bunker, its protected and controlled “Green Zone” on Hawaii Island, and meet and treat the people in the community with respect. They have repeatedly refused to participate in balanced public forums in the community. Democracy is not by invitation only.   The winds, dust devils, and vehicles that travel through Pohakuloa travel around this island.  Everyone on this island is potentially at risk from military radiation contamination at Pohakuloa which may be far greater than one weapon system called Davy Crockett.  We won’t know the truth until there is comprehensive independent monitoring and testing of the entire PTA base and what’s coming off that base.  Meanwhile, as a precaution, the military should respect the Hawaii County Council resolution passed July 2,2008 by a vote of 8-1 that called for a halt to all live fire and activities at PTA that create dust  until the DU present is cleaned up.  But the Army doesn’t want to clean up.  They want to leave the DU in place and continue bombing.  The Army talks the talk about being “environmental stewards, protecting the environment.” Let’s see how Green the Army really is.  It’s time to walk the talk and Stop the Bombing! Then clean up your mess, not only at PTA, but all over these islands, and return the land to the sovereign independent Nation of Hawaii.


Jim Albertini

Malu ‘Aina Center for Non-violent Education & Action

P.O.Box AB

Kurtistown, Hawai’i 96760

phone: 808-966-7622

email: JA@interpac.net

Visit us on the web at: www.malu-aina.org <http://www.malu-aina.org>

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http://www.kitv.com/news/24835515/detail.html

US Army: No Health Threat At Pohakuloa

Study Shows Low Radioactive Risk From Depleted Uranium

POSTED: 9:05 pm HST August 31, 2010

UPDATED: 11:36 pm HST August 31, 2010

Big Island, HAWAII — The U.S. Army said there is no health risk from depleted uranium to those working on or living near the Pohakuloa Training area on the Big Island.

The Army Tuesday allowed the media a first hand look at the area where depleted uranium is believed to have been used at Pohakuloa during weapons training between 1962 and 1965.

Nearly two years ago, the army took samples of the soil and Tuesday released the results of their analysis. They found the radiological risk at Pohakuloa was well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable risk of one in ten thousand.

“Their orders of magnitude are way below what the EPA and NRC considers to be a risk to either humans or the environment,” said Greg Komp, radiation safety officer with the U.S. Army Safety Office.

The Davy Crockett Weapons System was classified at the time, so much of the research had to be done by digging through records.

The Army said it determined the majority of the 714 rounds containing radioactive waste were likely fired at Schofield barracks on Oahu, not the Big Island.

“We really could not find any hot spots of depleted uranium which means there weren’t large clumps or targeting of depleted uranium. That tells us that not a lot was fired up here,” said Komp.

But a small group of peace activists who had gathered outside of the training facility were concerned the Army is not telling the whole story.

“There’s two very strong lines of evidence that there were 2,000 spotter rounds. The Army only found fragments from maybe four and they don’t seem real worried about where the other 2,000 are,” said activist Cory Harden.

Activists were also calling for the Army to stop it’s live fire training for fear of stirring up dust that puts depleted uranium into the air.

The Army said it’s still studying dust samples taken based on those concerns, but so far, they’re not finding any health hazards in those samples either.

The Army also said it’s working on cleaning up any depleted uranium residue in the training facility.

“So in the end, we can continue to train our Army and Marine Corps forces who need to train here, still be good stewards of the land and most especially, good neighbors for the people of the Big Island,” said Col. Doug Mulbury, Garrison Commander of U.S. Army Garrison, Hawaii.

Dugong Sighted – What is Sacred?

May 12, 2010 

A dugong, the endangered sea manatee of Okinawa, a sacred animal deity that is recounted in ancient Okinawan songs, was recently seen in Henoko, proposed site of the military base relocation from Futenma. A ho’ailona (sign)?

Meanwhile, Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network., asks “what is sacred?” She reflects on the new science that is showing how environmental contamination can be linked to many diseases formerly blamed on “lifestyle choices”.  She also refers the recent adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the protections it enshrines for indigenous peoples of the world.  Not mentioned in Raffensperger’s article is another clause referring to militarization:

Article 30
1. Military activities shall not take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples, unless justified by a relevant public interest or otherwise freely agreed with or requested by the indigenous peoples concerned.
2. States shall undertake effective consultations with the indigenous peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, prior to using their lands or territories for military activities.

In Hawai’i, the military destruction of sacred places like Lihu’e, Mauna Kea, Makua and Mokapu continues despite protests.   Clearly in the case of Okinawa, Guahan/Guam, Hawai’i, these conditions were not met.

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http://okinawa-dugong.blogspot.com/2010/05/dugong-was-seen-in-henoko-bay.html

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dugong was seen in Henoko Bay!

See the following link from Ryukyu Asahi Broadcasting news report!

http://www.qab.co.jp/news/2010051217881.html

Ryukyu Asahi Broadcasting (QAB) captured a Dugong, swimming in the Eastern Coast of Nago City.

Both Environmental Ministry and Defense Ministry have admitted that the ocean area from Henoko Bay to Kayo Bay is “the important sea area for the inhabitant of Dugong.”

The Nature Conservation Society of Japan is warning that, “seagrass beds, which feed dugong, are distributed in the shallows in front of the Camp Schweb. Therefore, even the pier plan proposed by the government, surely vanish the seagrass beds. Moreover, change of sea current would possibly vanish the distribution of the seagrass.”

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http://womensearthalliance.blogspot.com/2010/05/following-article-has-been-written-by.html

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What is Sacred?

The following article has been written by Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network.

What is sacred? What does the law recognize as sacred? These were the questions that haunted me yesterday, the third full day of the delegation’s trip to Nevada and Arizona to join with indigenous people to protect sacred sites from defilement and desecration.

Our first stop was at a uranium mine owned by Dennison Mines Corp.

The mine is one of the stand-by projects of Dennison. The corporation is awaiting the price of uranium to go up and the boom of nuclear power to resume. Dennison, according to its website, “enjoys a global portfolio of world-class exploration projects…” The problem is that the neighbors of the mine, in this case Navajo and Havasupai do not enjoy the exploration or the mining. The legacy of uranium mining in the Southwest is grievous. Cancer, contaminated land, and water are the consequences of six decades of a nuclear weapons program and nuclear power. Indigenous people bear the brunt of the environmental problems associated with uranium mining.

This is personal for me. One of my dearest friends, an indigenous woman, grew up playing in the mine tailings near Tuba City AZ. Monday she had surgery for her third cancer. She is in her 30s. The mining official we met with yesterday argued that the uranium miners’ high cancer rate was caused by their smoking rather than the radioactivity associated with the radon in the mines or the uranium itself.

The old argument that most cancers are a result of lifestyle “choices” is increasingly discredited by science. Just today the President’s Cancer Panel, a distinguished group of scientists issued a new report on environmental causes of cancer. Radon is fingered as one of the culprit carcinogens.

Northern Arizona is full of places sacred to the Hopi, Navajo, Havasupai and other tribes that have called this place home for millennia. But it is also pock marked by uranium mines and old mine tailings. Over 10,000 new uranium mine claims were staked between 2005 and 2009.

U.S. law, particularly the antiquated General Mining Act of 1872 treats all mines and potential mines as part of the wild frontier, the cowboy west. There are few barriers to mines except some procedural hoops that might delay a mine from opening for a few months or years.

The tribes consider this land to be sacred. There are springs and mountains, canyons and buttes that hold the religion, the stories and the histories of these people. It is the relationship of a community of humans to a place that makes that place sacred. Yet U.S. law only recognizes religion, which amounts to beliefs held by individuals. Indigenous spirituality is made up of the web of exquisitely-tended relationships that manifest and express beliefs.

We are only beginning to shape laws to reflect the sacred. The U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People includes this statement:

“Article 25: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.”

While not law in the United States, the Declaration sets the standard for how the law should treat the sacred places and relationships of indigenous people. The Declaration was not signed by the United States because it clashes with the U.S. private property regime. Private property trumps the sacred. Uranium mining trumps the rights of indigenous people to care for their springs and their holy sites.

The question of what is sacred sometimes only surfaces when we see what has been defiled–the rage we feel when we think a cancer might have been prevented, or an ocean might not have been polluted. How could we contaminate the very land from which we live? How can we contaminate the bodies of our children? How can we defile the places where we bury the dead? How can we destroy the places of great beauty and much history? All of these are sacred. We know this in our hearts.

Philippines: U.S. military pollution linked to deaths

February 2, 2010 

There are photos and video at the original site.

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http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=67676

Decades later, U.S. military pollution in Philippines linked to deaths

By Travis J. Tritten, Stars and Stripes

Pacific edition, Tuesday, February 2, 2010

CLARK AIR BASE, Philippines – The U. S. military is long gone from bases in the Philippines, but its legacy remains buried here.

Toxic waste was spilled on the ground, pumped into waterways and buried in landfills for decades at two sprawling Cold War-era bases.

Today, ice cream shops, Western-style horse ranches, hotels and public parks have sprung up on land once used by the Air Force and the Navy — a benign facade built on land the Philippine government said is still polluted with asbestos, heavy metals and fuel.

Records of about 500 families who sought refuge on the deserted bases after a 1991 volcanic eruption indicate 76 people died and 68 others were sickened by pollutants on the bases. A study in 2000 for the Philippine Senate also linked the toxins to “unusually high occurrence of skin disease, miscarriages, still births, birth defects, cancers, heart ailments and leukemia.”

The 1991 base closing agreement gave the Philippines billions of dollars in military infrastructure and real estate at the bases and in return cleared the United States of any responsibility for the pollution. The Department of Defense told Stars and Stripes it has no authority to undertake or pay for environmental cleanup at the closed bases.

Philippine government efforts never gained traction. Philippine President Joseph Estrada formed a task force in 2000 to take on the issue, but it fell dormant and unfunded after he left office a year later. Efforts by private groups and environmentalists to force a cleanup have largely fizzled.

After two decades, the base closing agreement has run up a troubling environmental record. Filipinos claim exposure to U.S. pollutants has brought suffering and death.

As the U.S. military works to become greener in the 21st century, the Philippines stand as a dark reminder of how environmental responsibilities can go astray overseas.

Both the Air Force and the Navy polluted haphazardly in the Philippines.

The Navy pumped 3.75 million gallons of untreated sewage each day into local fishing and swimming waters at Subic Bay, according to a 1992 report by what was then known as the General Accounting Office.

The bases poured fuel and chemicals from firefighting exercises directly into the water table and used underground storage tanks without leak detection equipment, the agency found.

At least three sites at the Subic Bay Navy base — two landfills and an ordnance disposal area — are dangerously polluted with materials such as asbestos, metals and fuels, the Philippines government found after an environmental survey there.

Clark Air Base was a staging area during the Vietnam War. Its aviation and vehicle operations contaminated eight sites with oil, petroleum lubricants, pesticides, PCB and lead, according to a 1997 environmental survey by the Philippine government.

Before the U.S. closed the bases, it drew up a rough bill for cleaning the hazardous pollution.

Though they never tested the water or soil, the Air Force and the Navy estimated cleanup at each could cost up to $25 million — the average cost of handling the most polluted sites back in the United States, according to the GAO.

Rose Ann Calma is believed to be one of the warning signs of pollution at Clark Air Base.

Now 13 years old, she weighs just 32 pounds and must wear diapers. Cerebral palsy and severe mental retardation have stolen her ability to speak or walk.

Her mother and about 500 other families who were displaced by a volcanic eruption in 1991 moved onto the base and set up a tent village.

They drilled shallow wells on a former motor pool site and drank the untreated water — despite an oily sheen — until they were moved off the land in the late 1990s.

Records of the families, published by the Philippines Senate, said 144 people were sickened at the camp, 76 of whom died.

It said at least 19 children were born with disabilities, diseases and deformities between 1996 and 1999.

Tests in 1995 by the Philippine Department of Health confirmed wells on Clark were contaminated with oil and grease, a byproduct of decades of military use.

“If it is God’s will, then I accept it,” Rose Ann’s mother, Susan Calma, said recently.

In a village near Subic Bay, Norma Abraham, 58, holds an X-ray showing the lung disease that killed her husband, Guillermo.

Her husband worked through the 1980s and early 1990s sorting the Navy waste that went into local landfills, which are the most polluted sites at Subic Bay.

Many aborigines like Abraham, who are among the poorest in a poor country, were paid about 30 cents per day to hand-sort recyclable metals from Navy waste that included asbestos, paint and batteries, villagers told Stars and Stripes.

No protective equipment other than gloves was ever used, and asbestos dust was often thick in the air, the villagers said. Sometimes, when a truck dumped new waste for sorting, they said the workers would faint from the toxic fumes.

Guillermo Abraham began to cough, feel tightness in his lungs and have trouble breathing while working there, his wife said.

The lung ailment plagued him through his life and after an X-ray in January showed he was terminally ill with lung disease, he died on May 29, Norma Abraham said.

His disease, which mirrors asbestosis, is the most common ailment and killer among the 70 or so families who worked with the Navy’s waste, according to the villagers.

The aborigines rarely get quality medical treatment and do not keep birth or death records. But they compiled a list for Stars and Stripes of 41 people who they believe died over the years from toxic exposure.

Any real chance for an environmental cleanup was scuttled by the two governments in the agreement that gave the Philippines billions of dollars in base infrastructure and real estate in return for absolving the United States of any responsibility for the pollution.

As a result, the United States has no legal responsibility or authority to conduct a cleanup, and an influential Philippines politician said that government has little interest in the problem.

“It is not one of its priorities,” said Philippine Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., a former majority leader and Senate president. “If it was, it would have been done a long time ago.”

Dolly Yanan keeps the records and photos of the gray-faced, emaciated and disabled children believed to have been poisoned by U.S. military pollution in the Subic Bay area.

The records count 38 deaths from disease between 2000 and 2003.

But the record-keeping has begun to lapse in recent years as hope for a cleanup and enthusiasm for the cause recedes.

“For the past four or five years, we cannot track the leukemia,” said Yanan, who runs a community center in Olongapo City.

A coalition of citizens known as the People’s Task Force for Bases Cleanup has fought for U.S. accountability for two decades and met with a string of disappointments.

The Philippine Senate inquiry and task force in 2000 led to no action, and a lawsuit designed to force a U.S.-led environmental assessment survey, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, was thrown out in 2003.

“If only our government was strong enough, I think there would have been a cleanup or at least an initial assessment,” Yanan said. “First, it should be our government who should have a strong will and call for a cleanup.”

Vieques: Two daughters with cancer: Is the U.S. to blame?

February 2, 2010 

http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/02/01/vieques.illness.part.2/

Two daughters with cancer: Is the U.S. to blame?

By Abbie Boudreau and Scott Bronstein, CNN Special Investigations Unit

February 2, 2010 11:03 a.m. EST

Meet a mother from Vieques and her two daughters who both suffer from cancer on tonight’s Campbell Brown, 8 ET

Vieques, Puerto Rico (CNN) — Each day after work, Nanette Rosa takes her two daughters to feed their horses. It’s their favorite part of the day — a time they don’t think about pain.

“It’s really difficult for my mom to have two daughters with cancer,” said 16-year-old Coral, the older daughter. “Because sometimes she’s got two of us in the hospital at the same time, and we both get sick at the same time. And sometimes she doesn’t have anyone to help her, and it really affects her.”

The Rosas live on Vieques, an American island off Puerto Rico. For nearly 60 years, the U.S. military used much of the island as a bombing range, dropping vast quantities of live bombs and missiles in weapons tests. Now, about three-quarters of the island’s residents — including Coral and her 14-year-old sister Inna — are part of a lawsuit that claims the bombing range made them sick.

“There’s a lot of people here dying of cancer,” Coral said. “I have my little cousin dying of cancer. I have my sister that has cancer. My boyfriend’s mom died of cancer. His dad has cancer of the skin. A lot of people are suffering here of cancer, ’cause what they did here in Vieques.”

As a toddler, Coral was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that afflicts younger children. Her mother says much of Coral’s stomach and intestines had to be replaced as a result of the cancer.

“Almost everything is plastic,” Nanette Rosa said. “So when she eats certain foods, it produces diarrhea, which has caused dehydration. She gets sick a lot, and certain foods she cannot eat like regular people.”

The operations have left Coral with a six-inch gash across her stomach, along with emotional scars.

“Sometimes I feel sad, ’cause everybody calls me ‘plastic intestines,’ ” she said. “They say, ‘Oh, you have a plastic belly.’ And I tell them, ‘You know what? If you were in this condition, how would you feel?’ ”

And doctors found a large tumor in Inna’s mouth when she was 7.

“It was very swollen, and it looked like there was a big ball of gum in my mouth or a big lollipop,” she said. “I started having pain, and the only thing that would come out was blood.”

Inna was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a bone cancer. John Eaves Jr., who represents Coral, Inna and other islanders in the lawsuit against the federal government, told CNN, “There is suffering throughout this island.”

“You cannot walk down the street on this island without counting every house and knowing two or three people on the street that have cancer, or have had cancer, or have died from cancer,” Eaves said. “But for me, the most disturbing thing is the number of children on this island that have terminal cancer.”

Eaves, of Mississippi, has taken more than 1,300 hair samples from Vieques residents and had them tested for heavy metals. About 80 percent of the hair samples tested positive for heavy metals. Many of the results show levels of toxic elements in people that are literally off the charts — the lines representing substances like lead, mercury, arsenic, aluminum and cadmium extend beyond the “dangerous” area and out of the grid entirely.

“These hair samples, I believe, are the strongest proof that the contaminants — the things that were in the bombs, like the lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, aluminum — are now in the people,” Eaves said.

Behind one of those charts is 7-year-old Taishmalee Ramos-Cruz, whose hair was tested when she was 2. Taishmalee’s parents say she had been very sick, and they fear she may get sick again.”

There is suffering throughout this island.

–John Eaves Jr

“She looked like she had chemotherapy. She lost all her hair, and she had these spots on her legs,” her father told CNN. “She also had bad trouble using her fingers properly for a long time.”

Eaves said he was not surprised to learn of the problems Taishmalee has experienced.

“Unfortunately, we have seen many children on Vieques with similar problems,” he said. “And she may still get sick again. We don’t know if she will get cancer later.”

Dr. Carmen Ortiz Roque, a Harvard-trained epidemiologist, has studied the Vieques population for years. She and other scientists have been deposed in the lawsuit.

“The human population of Vieques is by far the sickest human population that I’ve ever worked with,” said Ortiz, who practices in San Juan. “These people are very sick very early, and dying earlier. So something is happening there.”

Ortiz has compiled statistics for the Vieques population that she and other scientists find alarming.

“It’s astonishing,” she said. “They die 30 percent higher of cancer, 45 percent higher of diabetes, 95 percent higher of liver disease, and 381 percent higher of hypertension than the rest of Puerto Ricans.”

Ortiz’ findings are supported by and are now used by the Puerto Rico Department of Health as an indicator of health problems for the people of Vieques. She also found disturbing statistics on mercury levels in the Vieques population — levels that are much higher than the rest of Puerto Rico.

“Twenty-seven percent of the women in Vieques have enough mercury to damage their baby’s brain. That is very significant.” she said. “This is very serious, given that mercury causes permanent damage and mental retardation in children and that the hair samples are a standard way of measuring this exposure in women in the reproductive age.”

She said her sampling of children 5 and under in Vieques had “at least six times higher levels of mercury exposure than children sampled in the United States.”

Dr. John Wargo, a Yale University expert on the effects of toxic exposure on human health, said he believes contamination from the bombing range has caused illnesses among Vieques residents.

“The chemicals released on the island have the capacity to induce cancer, to damage the nervous system, to cause reproductive damage, mutations, genetic damage, and also to harm the immune system,” said Wargo, who is slated to testify as an expert witness in the islanders’ lawsuit.

In 2003, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded there was no link between the U.S. military activity on Vieques and the health problems suffered by the island’s population. The scientists were from the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry (ATSDR) division, which studies the nation’s toxic superfund sites.

Numerous scientists and federal lawmakers have since publicly criticized the 2003 report on Vieques.

Howard Frumkin, director of the ATSDR, was grilled at a House science and technology subcommittee hearing last year over the effectiveness of the agency and its handling of the Vieques and other questionable sites. In a report released just two days before the March 12 hearing, the subcommittee found that “time and time again ATSDR appears to avoid clearly and directly confronting the most obvious toxic culprits that harm the health of local communities throughout the nation.

“Instead, they deny, delay, minimize, trivialize or ignore legitimate concerns and health considerations of local communities and well-respected scientists and medical professionals.”

And in November, a group of at least seven scientists, including Ortiz and Wargo, called on ATSDR to conduct more research on the Vieques. ATSDR later that month announced it would take a “fresh look” at Vieques and conduct new studies to determine whether the Navy’s contamination at Vieques made people sick.

In January, ATSDR’s Frumkin was reassigned.

In response to the islander’s lawsuit, the U.S. government is invoking sovereign immunity, claiming the islanders do not have the right to sue the government and that there’s no proof that the Navy’s activities caused the widespread illnesses.

For the sick residents of Vieques there is no time to lose.

“What I want is people to get medicine and help here,” said Inna. “I know how people are suffering in this island. I see people in the streets and poor people living like wild things. And there’s kids dying on the street. It’s not good.”