ATSDR to Change its Early Conclusions on Environmental Assessment in Vieques

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is notorious for discounting the environmental health concerns of communities. In several cases, the agency has been forced to redo its studies due to faulty or biased data and conclusions.  The people of Vieques initially boycotted the ATSDR because of its bad reputation.  In Hawai’i ATSDR has a similar track record, dismissing concerns about cancer in Wai’anae, and waving through military depleted uranium and Pearl Harbor sediment health risk assessments. If scientists and medical professionals in Hawai’i did more to investigate the contamination and health issues, we might be able to force a re-evaluation of ATSDR findings for Hawai’i.  But the scientific and medical professions have sadly been kept on a short leash due to sources of funding being so closely tied to military appropriations.


Federal Agency to Change its Early Conclusions on Environmental Assessment in Vieques

Geographic Location: —Vieques, Puerto Rico
Posted: — Friday, November 13, 2009 View page in Spanish (Español) ATLANTA-The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has signaled its intent to modify some of its earlier conclusions about health risks to residents of the Island of Vieques.  The decision was shared during a meeting with scientists from Puerto Rico and followed a thorough review of ATSDR public health assessments finalized in 2003 and other environmental studies of the island conducted in the intervening years.  ATSDR’s re-examination of the data comes as part of a “fresh look” the federal public health agency pledged to island residents and Congress.

“A thorough and objective review of the available data is an important step in our commitment to the people of Vieques”, said Dr. Howard Frumkin, agency director.  “Much has been learned since we first went to Vieques a decade ago, and we have identified gaps in environmental data that could be important in determining health effects.”  We are committed to using the best technology and scientific expertise to help find answers for the people of Vieques.

“The gaps we found indicate that we cannot state unequivocally that no health hazards exist in Vieques.  We have found reason to pose further questions,” Frumkin said.

As a result of the scientific consultation and its document review, ATSDR expects to:

  • change some of its earlier conclusions regarding the safety of environmental exposures on Vieques;
  • recommend biomonitoring to determine whether persons living on Vieques have been exposed to harmful chemicals, and, if so, at what levels those chemicals may be in their bodies;
  • work with Puerto Rican health officials to conduct more in-depth evaluation of health outcomes;
  • work with community members and Puerto Rican health officials to issue science-based, precautionary recommendations to protect public health;
  • work with partners in the Puerto Rican health care community to encourage improved access to health care for residents of Vieques; and
  • coordinate an inclusive, accountable process featuring participation of Puerto Rican community members and professionals in moving forward.

ATSDR scientists will prepare a summary report of the previous environmental health work done for Vieques, including recommendations developed from the scientific consultation.  As part of the scientific process, this report will be peer reviewed by independent experts.  Once peer review is completed, ATSDR will provide detailed recommendations about future activities.

“ATSDR greatly appreciates the scientists taking time to travel to Atlanta and share their findings and perspectives.  We salute the independent scientists and community leaders for their dedication to the health of the people of Vieques, and we look forward to working with them as we move forward with our fresh look at Vieques,” Frumkin said.

A current progress report is available on the ATSDR Web site at  To learn more about the activities planned for Vieques, community members may contact:

  • Lisa Hayes, Lead Environmental Health Scientist, at 770-488-0737or via email at, or call 1-800-CDC-INFO
  • Ricardo R. Beato, Health Communication Specialist at 770-488-0625 or via email at

ATSDR, a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, evaluates the human health effects of exposure to hazardous substances.


Déborah B. Santana


Just a clarification: Viequenses initially cooperated with the ATSDR’s study. I remember quite well that people testified, and Puerto Rican scientists gave the ATSDR copies of all of their studies. The protest that you might be referring to when the ATSDR came to Vieques was after the ATSDR had emitted a preliminary statement that the water was not contaminated by military practices.


Mahalo for this clarification! In Hawai’i, we were initially unaware of ATSDR’s reputation until we learned of the Vieques protests. Then we experienced for ourselves how the ATSDR helped to excuse the military polluters.

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