News Feature | November 7, 2017

U.S. To Puerto Rico: Hazardous Waste Site Water Is Safe

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

As Puerto Rico navigates a massive drinking water crisis prompted by Hurricane Maria, the U.S. government is telling the island that it is safe to drink water from a hazardous waste site.

“Water drawn from wells at a hazardous waste site in hurricane-hit Puerto Rico meets federal drinking water standards and is fit for consumption,” CNN reported, citing a U.S. EPA news release.

“The water being pulled from wells at the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site, which is part of the Superfund program for hazardous waste cleanup, meets federal drinking water standards for certain industrial chemicals, as well as for bacteria,” the news source said, citing Elias Rodriguez, an EPA spokesman.

The water is okay to consume based on an EPA analysis, Rodriquez said, per the report.

“Superfund sites are areas contaminated by hazardous industrial waste that have been identified by the EPA as candidates for a federal cleanup program. The EPA advised against ‘tampering with sealed and locked wells or drinking from these wells, as it may be dangerous to people’s health,’” Reuters reported.

Six weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated infrastructure on the island, many Puerto Ricans remain without water and electricity, The News & Observer reported. Around 83 percent of the island now has access to tap water, according to the website status.pr, a website run by Puerto Rico officials.

“Access to safe drinking water is a major issue, with the island under instructions to boil water, even if it comes from a tap, and with many residents unable to do so because they have no electricity,” the report said, citing local volunteers.

One major concern about the inaccessibility of clean tap water: It could prompt a public health crisis.

“Massive damage to Puerto Rico's water system from Hurricane Maria poses a looming health crisis for island residents exposed to contaminated water, health workers and environmentalists warn,” USA Today reported.

“Doctors and nurses who traveled to Puerto Rico since the hurricane hit Sept. 20 said they treated widespread symptoms related to unclean water, ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to conjunctivitis (pink eye), scabies and asthma. At least 74 suspected cases of leptospirosis, a dangerous bacteria, have been reported, including two deaths,” the report said.

Image credit: "Puerto Rican Day Prep 2013," mike licht © 2013, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/