Reports: Puerto Ricans are drinking water from hazardous waste sites

Thirty-five percent of the island still has no access to safe drinking water.

Credit: (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
Credit: (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

In a press release providing updates on the effects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Wednesday that they have received reports of Puerto Rican residents “obtaining, or trying to obtain, drinking water from wells at hazardous waste ‘Superfund’ sites.”

Puerto Rico has 23 Superfund sites across the island, each containing hazardous soil and water. “EPA advises against tampering with sealed and locked wells or drinking from these wells, as it may be dangerous to people’s health,” the press release states.

And even where there is water, officials are advising residents to boil it beforehand, to ensure that it is safe to consume. “Dozens of water and wastewater treatment plants remain inactive after the hurricane. And damage to the laboratories where water quality is analyzed has forced the island’s water authority to outsource the task to private entities,” NBC News reported. On Wednesday, FEMA announced that it had authorized $70 million dollars to the Puerto Rican government to restore water safety.

These reports come as the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico remains dire. Roughly 35 percent of residents still don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water, and an even larger portion of the population still does not have electricity.

Efforts to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid, which was decimated by Hurricane Maria, have stagnated and could take months to repair. A new report in Reuters shows just how poorly the Trump administration has responded to the urgent need to rebuild the island’s grid.

Puerto Rico is also experiencing a food shortage crisis. Officials working with FEMA told The Guardian that the government is only providing 200,000 ready-to-eat meals to feed more than 2 million people.

The Trump administration has been widely criticized for its slow, insufficient response to the devastating situation that remains in Puerto Rico three weeks after Maria slammed into the island. On his visit to the island last week, President Donald Trump complained about the cost of the recovery effort, handed out flashlights while telling residents they no longer needed them, and tossed paper towels into the crowd.