Lajes airbase in Azores in heightened cancer scare

It’s a 12-year problem on the Azorean island that houses the US airbase at Lajes and one that authorities on both sides seem to have been ignoring. Now the island’s CDS-PP vice-president Félix Rodrigues says it is time to act, to “understand effectively what the relations are between the contaminants (identified as hydrocarbons and heavy metals in water sources in 2005) and health problems on the island”, namely cancers.

“It is time to define a strategy of epidemiological study”, he told a press conference yesterday (Monday), stressing that “everything indicates that Terceira island has problems associated to contamination by hydrocarbons and heavy metals in the water of Praia da Vitória” (the borough in which Lajes resides).

A US military study identified 35 contaminated locations on the island in 2005.

This was confirmed by national studies (by the national laboratory of civil engineering: LNEC) four years later.

Yet decontamination has failed to go ahead, and in the meantime “no one can deny the public health problems that have started to appear in the borough of Praia da Vitória”.

Said Rodrigues: “When we have water with vanadium in unacceptable levels for north American and Canadian standards, I don’t want to hear about water security. When you are dealing with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, there is no security. There is in fact a risk of contracting cancer”.

The press conference, reported by Lusa, gave no indication as to how the contaminants got into the island’s water, but the fact that the US military is mentioned at all suggests activity at Lajes has been the source.

Indeed, Lusa explains that “last week after receiving MPs from the environmental commission of the Republican Assembly, president of the regional government Socialist Vasco Cordeiro said the matter was a ‘priority’ but that ‘necessary time’ was to be given to the new North American administration to analyse the dossiers”.

CDS-PP leaders clearly think time has run out.

Said president of the archipelago’s party Artur Lima, the State “should not wait for action by North American authorities but advance with decontamination immediately”.

Lima added that his party has already presented a proposal to this effect in the Azores legislative assembly.

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