Study: Toxic metals in produce grown on Vieques

MAYAGUEZ, Puerto Rico: A new study has found dangerous levels of toxic metals in produce grown on a Puerto Rican island formerly used as a Navy bombing range, despite U.S. government claims that the soil there is safe.

Some products from a research farm on Vieques Island had as much as 20 times the acceptable amount of lead and cadmium, according to the study released last week by the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez.

Researcher Arturo Massol said peppers, spinach and tomatoes showed higher levels of contamination than products from the nearby Puerto Rican mainland and would pose a health risk to humans. Food grown at the farm is strictly for research and is not meant for consumption.

A Navy spokesman, Cmdr. J.A. "Cappy" Surett, reiterated Monday that the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has determined the soil on Vieques does not pose a health risk to people. A 2003 study by the agency found that Navy training exercises elevated the levels of some metals in the soil, but islanders were not exposed to harmful levels of contamination.

Vieques' small farming community requested the analysis by Massol, who has also studied contamination among the island's fish populations.

After decades of being hammered by live rounds from warships and planes, the Vieques bombing range closed in April 2003 following years of protests.

Since 2005, workers overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been clearing mortar shells and unexploded munitions in a cleanup expected to take about 10 years.

Article Source: The Associated Press

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