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EPA Hurricane Maria Update for Friday, October 20th

EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez Meets with U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp,

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WASHINGTON (October 20, 2017)—U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Pete Lopez concluded his five-day trip to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as the agency continues its round-the-clock response to Hurricanes Maria and Irma in close coordination with federal, commonwealth, territory, and local partners. EPA is focused on environmental impacts and potential threats to human health as well as the safety of those in the affected areas. Regional Administrator Lopez met with government officials and communities to see first-hand the progress being made to address the challenges Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands face in the months ahead.

On Thursday, Regional Administrator Lopez flew to St. Croix to meet with Governor Kenneth Mapp, and then travelled to St. Thomas to observe damage and meet with USVI government officials. He returned to Puerto Rico and joined other federal and commonwealth agencies at a morning press conference on health issues in the response effort.

EPA Regional Administrator Pete López visiting a battery staging area in St. Thomas with USVI Water and Power Authority CEO Julio Rhymer, USVI Department of Planning & Natural Resources Commissioner Dawn HenryEPA Regional Administrator Pete López visiting a battery staging area in St. Thomas with USVI Water and Power Authority CEO Julio Rhymer, USVI Department of Planning & Natural Resources Commissioner Dawn Henry

“Everywhere I went in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, I sought to thoughtfully and substantially engage with our partners in the commonwealth and territory, with a focus on solving problems.   As I return to New York, I am encouraged by the progress that has been made and determined that we will overcome challenges that may present themselves in the months to come as we continue our response to these two hurricanes.”

EPA is continuing to coordinate with local governments in Puerto Rico and the USVI to assess the conditions of drinking water, which includes sampling, analysis and lab support, and getting wastewater treatment systems up and running. EPA’s missions also include oil and chemical spill response, oil and chemical facility assessments and debris management. 

Today, EPA is re-testing water from spigots located on the Dorado Ground Water Superfund site as part of the agency’s on-going work with the government of Puerto Rico to respond to Hurricane Maria. The spigots are located near groundwater wells at the Superfund site. Initial sampling was conducted on October 14 to determine if water from the spigots contained the contaminants of concern that have previously been found in the groundwater aquifer underlying the site at levels above drinking water limits. Sampling data shows that the water from the spigots is not coming from the Superfund site wells, but is likely coming from a drinking water system that is being treated, as it contains chlorine. Additional sampling is now needed, because sampling protocols for water systems that are chlorinated for disinfection purposes are different from protocols for water from untreated wells.

EPA will re-sample water at three locations in the western portion of the site, where people had been filling containers with water from spigots despite fences and warning signs around the wells.  EPA also will re-sample two locations in the eastern portion of the site. The eastern locations are near the Santa Rosa and Nevarez wells, which have not historically shown contamination in excess of drinking water standards and are sometimes used by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) to provide drinking water to people in the community. PRASA and the Puerto Rico Department of Health sample these two wells regularly to check for chemical and bacteria contamination, and EPA is sampling them to compliment the Puerto Rico government’s efforts.

Preliminary results of the testing should be available by next week. EPA is coordinating closely with PRASA, the Puerto Rico Department of Health, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and the FBI to ensure water is available to people near the site. PRASA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have stationed water trucks near the wells, and the FBI is distributing bottled water.

EPA personnel are taking steps to help less accessible communities in Puerto Rico. EPA personnel are following up with FEMA to ensure these communities are supported with water, food, and medical supplies. EPA assessment teams visiting impacted areas have been joined by Project Hope, which then initiates the distribution of water and food to these communities.

EPA field team provides water, disinfection tablets, information as first response contacts to Lares community in mountains in central-western Puerto Rico

EPA continues to deploy personnel to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as conditions allow. As of October 19, 2017:

  • About 270 personnel are currently involved in hurricane response efforts.

  • About 64 personnel are on the ground in USVI to assist with response efforts.

  • About 109 personnel are on the ground in Puerto Rico to assist with response efforts.

Debris Management
EPA is establishing a hazardous waste staging and collection area in Toa Baja, and the agency continues to work with FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Puerto Rico and USVI governments on debris management. EPA will assist with the handling and disposal of orphan containers, household hazardous waste, medical waste and e-waste. EPA plans to conduct air monitoring at collection areas and during all hazardous materials operations.  

Marine Operations
EPA is working with the US Coast Guard on marine operations to assess sunken vessels on the eastern coast of Puerto Rico and USVI. Teams will locate and evaluate the condition of sunken vessels and assist with the disposal of recovered oil and hazardous materials.  

Assessment of Superfund Sites, Oil Sites and Regulated Facilities
EPA continues to re-assess Superfund sites, oil sites, and chemical facilities in both Puerto Rico and the USVI to determine if the sites were affected by Hurricane Maria and if there is a potential for contamination to cause off-site impacts. EPA teams have completed assessments at 231 fixed facilities in Puerto Rico and 58 in the USVI that are regulated under the Risk Management Plan (RMP), Facility Response Plan FRP), or Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) programs. 

Drinking Water and Wastewater Management
EPA continues to coordinate drinking water sampling with the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Natural Resources. In Puerto Rico, the EPA continues to focus on assessing both drinking water and wastewater systems and continues to work closely with the government of Puerto Rico.

Water Safety
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people should not use the water from rivers, streams and coastal water to drink, bathe, wash, or to cook with unless first boiling this water for a minimum of one minute. If boiling the water is not possible, water may be disinfected with bleach. To learn more about making water safe in an emergency, go to CDC’s Making Water Safe in an Emergency web page.

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