- REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Authorities in Puerto Rico are reportedly pumping water from a well at a federally designated Superfund site, CNN said late Friday night, citing Superfund documents and interviews with federal and state officials.
It is the latest indication of the growing humanitarian crisis in the US territory, three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island – leaving many people without food, electricity, or safe drinking water.
At least 35% of the residents in Puerto Rico have no access to clean water, according to Status PR, the Puerto Rican government’s website that keeps track of relief efforts there.
CNN reported that it witnessed workers for Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the island’s water utility, distributing water from a well at the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site, which was included on a list of federal Superfund sites last year.
The US Environmental Protection Agency said at the time that the site contained potentially harmful chemicals like tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene. According to the EPA, the risks associated with exposure include liver damage and an increased risk of cancer.
It was not immediately clear whether the well that water was being distributed from at the site was contaminated. The EPA said it would conduct tests at the site this weekend.
“The EPA is gathering more information about the quality of water from the wells associated with our Dorado groundwater contamination site, as well as other Superfund sites in Puerto Rico,” the EPA’s statement read. The agency said “some of these wells are sometimes used to provide drinking water,”
The agency said it is “concerned that people could be drinking water that may be contaminated, depending on the well. We are mindful of the paramount job of protecting people’s health, balanced with people’s basic need for water.”
President Donald Trump has received poor reviews for his handling of the relief effort in Puerto Rico, even as Trump has repeatedly applauded himself. House Speaker Paul Ryan visited the island on Friday and promised continued financial support from the federal government, a day after Trump said the US military and FEMA could not stay on the island forever.
Meanwhile, residents stood in line to fill up containers with water from the well located at the hazardous-waste site. Some were resigned to the desperation of the moment, CNN reported: “I don’t have a choice,” 66-year-old Jose Luis Rodriguez told the news network. “This is the only option I have.”