News Releases from Headquarters›Land and Emergency Management (OLEM)
EPA Continues its Response to Hurricane Maria as Focus Turns to Long Term Recovery
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) respond to the damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, with more than 380 personnel currently assisting in the effort. Among the operations that continue, ensuring access to clean drinking water and proper disposal of hazardous materials remain priorities.
“We have accomplished much, thanks to the incredible work that has been done by first responders, residents, community organizations and local government, all working together to respond to the unprecedented devastation caused by these hurricanes,” said Pete Lopez, EPA Regional Administrator. “Along the way, we have strengthened our relationships with the governments of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and with local communities. These relationships will serve us well as we all begin the more complicated work of long-term recovery.”
Assessment and Sampling of Drinking Water Systems Continues in Puerto Rico
The Agency had previously assessed all 237 non-PRASA (Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority) drinking water systems located in rural areas of Puerto Rico, and worked with FEMA, the government of Puerto Rico and local authorities to ensure that initial repairs were made and assistance provided to help get temporary power to these systems. EPA has begun the next phase to address approximately 40 of these systems that require infrastructure and other fixes to improve their operations and ensure that they have reliable power sources. EPA is also taking samples at Non-PRASA drinking water systems in Puerto Rico in support of the Puerto Rico Department of Health’s surveillance efforts.
EPA also assessed drinking water systems and helped with sampling in the USVI, and those operations are complete. To-date, EPA has collected more than 2,500 samples of drinking water in both Puerto Rico and the USVI from water systems to help Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and local governments as they turn toward permanent fixes and plan for the future.
Hazardous Materials Removed for Proper Disposal
EPA continues to ensure that hazardous waste, including household hazardous waste, medical waste and electronics waste are collected in Puerto Rico. In addition to helping collect, separate and prepare the wastes, EPA is responsible for taking the waste to appropriate disposal facilities, including hazardous waste facilities, off island. To-date, EPA has collected nearly 350,000 items of household hazardous waste in Puerto Rico and the USVI, keeping these materials out of local landfills and out of harm’s way.
EPA’s work in Puerto Rico is expected to continue in the coming weeks and months. EPA’s curbside pickup and collection of household hazardous waste, as well as collection of electronics waste from schools and Territorial offices in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is completed.
Focus on Recovery
EPA is transitioning from response work into recovery work in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA is actively discussing recovery needs with FEMA and other federal agencies with a goal of addressing long-standing challenges and environmental concerns. The EPA is participating in recovery assessments, along with territory and local government partners, to provide a springboard upon which joint strategies will be built for both the USVI and Puerto Rico. Access to clean drinking water and supporting wastewater infrastructure will remain a top priority, along with work to address solid waste issues exacerbated by the hurricanes.
For more information about EPA’s work in response to the hurricanes and for more photos, visit EPA’s Hurricane Maria website and Hurricane Maria story map.