Officials in Puerto Rico announced earlier this week that the central water authority had returned service to almost 70% of households. Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, this certainly came as good news among the reality of devastation.
But what about the other 30%?
The Washington Post reports that some residents are turning to contaminated water sources to satisfy their basic needs — often unknowingly. In Dorado specifically, many community members turned to an overgrown well in the area, only to find out that it was part of the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Superfund.
The Environmental Protection Agency declared this area one of the most toxic sites in the U.S., according to The Washington Post. While officials don’t know the exact reason for contamination, water tests have detected tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene. These compounds are used in various industries but cause increased cancer risk, liver damage, and other health problems in humans.
The CDC estimates that one in six Americans get sick from contaminated food and drinks every year, but residents of Dorado were not aware that this water site was contaminated. The Washington Post reports that a “Peligro” sign had been buried by debris and overgrown plants, so residents did not see the sign indicating danger. EPA officials have since blocked off the area and put the sign back up. They have performed bacteria tests on the water and will be completing a chemical analysis.
In response to the incident, a legislator from Mississippi pushed for federal action. According to a report by CNN, Rep. Bennie Thompson wrote to the Department of Homeland Security asking officials to investigate drinking water in Puerto Rico.
“Reports of Puerto Ricans waiting hours to receive potentially contaminated water that could have long-term health consequences is beyond disturbing,” he said in a statement, according to CNN. “That it happened on days after EPA warned the people of Puerto Rico to refrain from breaking into Superfund sites to access water suggests a troubling breakdown in coordination among the federal entities playing a role in federal disaster response activities.”
In response, the EPA confirmed in a statement to CNN that some of the Dorado wells might be contaminated.
“While some of these wells are sometimes used to provide drinking water, the EPA is concerned that people could be drinking water that may be contaminated, depending on the well,” the EPA said. “We are mindful of the paramount job of protecting people’s health, balanced with people’s basic need for water.”