Rep. Steven Roth­man | Post­ed: May 17, 2010 12:20 AM

Puerto Rico Vieques

The injus­tice toward the peo­ple of Vieques, Puer­to Rico must end. Vieques is a small island off the south east coast of Puer­to Rico that was used as a bomb­ing range by the U.S. Navy from World War II until 2003. The muni­tions used in and around Vieques con­tained tox­ins that have affect­ed the health of the res­i­dents. Yet in 2003, the Agency for Tox­ic Sub­stances and Dis­ease Reg­istry (ATSDR) issued a report that said that the lev­els posed no health risk. The con­clu­sions in this report strain cred­i­bil­i­ty, are incon­sis­tent, and demand a thor­ough reexamination.

The peo­ple of Vieques deserve answers for the undis­put­ed high rates of dis­ease that they have encoun­tered over the years. Res­i­dents of Vieques have a 25% high­er infant mor­tal­i­ty rate, 30% high­er rate of can­cer, a 95% high­er rate of cir­rho­sis of the liv­er, a 381% high­er rate of hyper­ten­sion, and a 41% high­er rate of dia­betes than those on the main island of Puer­to Rico.

I have brought this issue to the atten­tion of the high­est lev­els of our gov­ern­ment and all of the appro­pri­ate fed­er­al agen­cies. ATSDR was final­ly con­vinced to re-open this case and made this known in response to my demands dur­ing a hear­ing of the House Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Com­mit­tee, of which I am a mem­ber, on March 12, 2009. They have now begun an inde­pen­dent reex­am­i­na­tion of their 2003 con­clu­sions and have stat­ed that they will issue their ini­tial find­ings by the end of the sum­mer or ear­ly fall 2010.

In addi­tion, I have been assured that this issue will be includ­ed in the White House Task Force’s exam­i­na­tions and rec­om­men­da­tions to Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma regard­ing Puer­to Rico. I look for­ward to read­ing a new and improved report from ATSDR that will final­ly reveal the truth and open the door for jus­tice to be real­ized by the peo­ple of Vieques. Final­ly, I intend to ques­tion ATS­DR’s Direc­tor Hen­ry Falk lat­er this week when he appears before our House Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Committee.

We must bring the issues sur­round­ing the health of Vieques to light. I am con­fi­dent we will final­ly be able to bring jus­tice to Vieques. The time for the U.S. gov­ern­ment to right this wrong is long overdue.

Con­gress­man Steven R. Roth­man is a Demo­c­rat from Fair Lawn rep­re­sent­ing the south­ern por­tion of Bergen Coun­ty, parts of north­ern Hud­son Coun­ty, and the Bor­ough of Hawthorne in Pas­sa­ic Coun­ty in New Jer­sey’s Ninth Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict. Now serv­ing in his sev­enth term, Steve is a mem­ber of the pow­er­ful House Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, which allo­cates all of the funds in the fed­er­al budget.

He sits on the Defense, State and For­eign Oper­a­tions, and Home­land Secu­ri­ty Sub­com­mit­tees of the Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. He is also a mem­ber of the House Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Com­mit­tee’s Sub­com­mit­tees on Space and Aero­nau­tics and Inves­ti­ga­tions and Over­sight. The Bergen Record, one of New Jer­sey’s largest dai­ly news­pa­pers, has described Steve as “eth­i­cal and effec­tive” and hav­ing a “strong rep­u­ta­tion for integri­ty.” The Her­ald News, anoth­er New Jer­sey news­pa­per, called Steve a “hard work­er for the dis­trict” who has “proven his dedication.”