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Sunken, Unexploded Bombs Pose Cancer Risk

Munitions in water off Puerto Rico transfer toxins into seafood, scientist says

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Unexploded bombs in the oceans leak cancer-causing toxins that are absorbed by marine life and may be transferred to humans who eat seafood, one ecologist warns.

"Unexploded bombs are in the ocean for a variety of reasons -- some were duds that did not explode, others were dumped in the ocean as a means of disposal. And we now know that these munitions are leaking cancer-causing materials and endangering sea life," University of Georgia ecologist James Porter said in a news release.

He collected samples from the eastern end of Vieques island off the coast of Puerto Rico, a land and sea area that was used as a U.S. naval gunnery and bombing range from 1943 to 2003.

Porter found that corals, feather duster worms and sea urchins closest to unexploded bombs and bomb fragments had the highest levels of toxicity.

In areas up to two meters away from an intact bomb or bomb fragments, concentrations of cancer-causing toxins were up to 100,000 times over established safe limits, he said.

Prior studies have found that residents of Vieques have a 23 percent higher cancer rate than those who live on the Puerto Rico mainland. Future research needs "to determine the link from unexploded munitions to marine life to the dinner plate," Porter said.

Removing unexploded munitions from the oceans would eliminate the threat, and there is equipment that can safely accomplish the task, he added.

Porter will present his research next week at the Second International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions in Honolulu.

More information

There's more on cancer and the environment at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, Feb. 18, 2009

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