Yesterday (August 6, 2009) The New York Times published another article on the ongoing battle to ensure safe clean-up of Vieques. Mireya Navarro reports that Vieques residents mistrust the Navy’s clean-up process, fearing that it will expose them again to risk, in view of the disproportionately high rates of illnesses like cancer, hypertension, and liver disease on the island thought to have been caused by decades of bombing practice on the island. The E.P.A. says that the hazardous substances associated with ordnance present in Vieques include TNT, napalm, depleted uranium, mercury, lead, and other chemicals, including PCBs, and that the cleanup could take 10 years or more. The process of removing hazardous unexploded munitions from its old training ground will consist of detonating them in the open air. The Navy also proposes to burn through nearly 100 acres of dense tropical vegetation to locate and explode highly sensitive cluster bombs.
Apparently, the unexploded bombs are too powerful to be set off in detonation chambers and experiments to cut through the dense vegetation with a remote-control device were unsuccessful. As Navarro states, the most contested issue in Vieques now is “the Navy’s request to the E.P.A. and the Environmental Quality Board in Puerto Rico to allow the controlled burn to clear vegetation and find bombs. The risk of accidental explosions, the Navy says, is too high for workers to do it by hand using chainsaws, machetes and trimmers. [. . .] Yet some experts on military cleanups suggest that, rather than focusing on any short-term air quality problems, residents might consider the possibility of an accidental explosion that is years away.” This situation exemplifies the phrase “to be between a rock and a hard spot”— Viequenses can either risk dying in an accidental explosion or be exposed to further detonations, not to mention the ecological havoc caused by the “clean-up.”
For full article by Mireya Navarro, see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/07/science/earth/07vieques.html