On Friday (January 5), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an update on the conditions in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, which struck the island on September 20, knocking out the power grid and flooding the island with more than two feet of water. Per the agency, some 100 days after the storm, approximately 76,000 residents in the United States commonwealth currently rely on drinking water that might be contaminated with raw sewage.
Per the statement:
In general, and out of an abundance of caution, EPA and local government agencies in Puerto Rico continue to recommend that people take precautions when coming in direct contact with waterbodies in Puerto Rico, including streams, rivers and beaches because of the possibility of raw sewage being discharged into some water bodies.
Contaminated water can lead to illness when used for drinking, bathing and other hygiene activities.
The impacted residents rely on water from wells and other sources not supplied by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, which, the EPA says, currently monitors drinking water quality across the island for safety.
The EPA currently has 284 personnel on the ground in Puerto Rico. The agency’s estimate of the number of residents facing contaminated water—76,000 in a population of 3.4 million—is smaller than numbers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to FEMA’s website, 90 days after the storm, roughly 86 percent of Puerto Ricans had access to potable water. Meanwhile, per an article from ThinkProgress, “There has been a significant uptick in waterborne illnesses and even reports of deaths due to leptospirosis, a fatal disease caused by contact with contaminated water.” The New York Times reported in December that there has been “a significantly higher death toll after the hurricane than the government there has acknowledged.”
Since the hurricane made landfall, many Puerto Rican elected officials have criticized the federal government and President Donald Trump for insufficient relief efforts. On December 29, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told ABC News, “Where he needed to be a commander-in-chief, he was a disaster-in-chief. President Trump does not embody the values of the good-hearted American people that have made sure that we are not forgotten.”
Relief efforts continue and yesterday (January 7), singer Jennifer Lopez and athlete Alex Rodriguez began touring the island to allocate $25 million raised via a telethon.