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News Releases

News Releases from HeadquartersLand and Emergency Management (OLEM)

EPA Hurricane Maria Update for Wednesday, November 22

11/22/2017
Contact Information: 

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues its response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in close coordination with federal, commonwealth, territorial, and local partners. EPA remains focused on environmental impacts and potential threats to human health as well as the safety of those in the affected areas.

While EPA continues work on all areas including working with federal agencies and local regulatory and health agencies to address drinking water and wastewater needs and assess facilities, our response is ramping up to help manage debris and household hazardous waste, sunken vessels and medical waste.

“As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, we are mindful that thousands of residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still contending with many challenges,” said EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. “EPA will do all that we can to continue on the path to recovery by engaging with territorial and commonwealth agencies and communities across the islands as they recover from the destruction of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.”

Personnel
As of November 20, 2017:
• About 332 EPA personnel are currently involved in hurricane response efforts.
• About 97 EPA personnel are on the ground in USVI to assist with response efforts.
• About 142 EPA personnel are on the ground in Puerto Rico to assist with response efforts.

Debris Management

Hurricanes generate vast amounts of debris - some of it is considered hazardous waste. It’s important for EPA to help maximize recycling efforts and manage hazardous waste appropriately by segregating debris piles.

Specifically, EPA is assisting agencies to manage debris, including the handling and disposal of household hazardous waste, oil, chemical, medical, and electronic wastes.

Hazardous Materials

EPA is identifying, opening and operating collection areas for hazardous materials as part of its debris mission. EPA has collected thousands of household hazardous waste (HHW) containers, and orphan containers. Orphan containers include drums, tanks, fluid totes, compressed gas cylinders, canisters and similar containers found floating in or washed up near waterways. EPA has also assisted in packaging, shipping and disposing many tons of medical waste from the hospitals and medical centers in the USVI.

Household hazardous waste includes aerosol cans, household cleaners and chemicals, paint, and electronic waste such as computers and televisions. Household hazardous materials also include batteries, which have become a major concern due to the large volume of batteries being used by residents who are without power. Household hazardous waste can contaminate the land, waterways, and groundwater if improperly disposed.
 

Information about HHW segregation, drop-off and/or collection is disseminated to residents through flyers, public service announcements over radio, and direct interaction by EPA personnel at heavily frequented locations such as shopping centers.

  • In Puerto Rico, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have opened 20 collection locations for HHW, electronic waste, orphan containers, and white goods such as large appliances and air conditioners. EPA has established seven locations in the USVI.
  • To date, EPA has collected 7,636 containers of hazardous materials in Puerto Rico and more than 4,909 containers of hazardous materials in the USVI.
  • Since late October, EPA has shipped more than six tons of stockpiled medical waste from St. Croix’s Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center for proper disposal off the island. In St. Thomas, at the Schneider Regional Medical Center, more than 29 tons of medical waste were properly packaged and is awaiting shipment for disposal.


Marine Operations
EPA continues to support the U.S. Coast Guard in the recovery of submerged or damaged vessels in Puerto Rico and the USVI. EPA is part of multi-agency field teams, which are locating and evaluating the condition of sunken vessels. EPA is assisting with the disposal of recovered oil, batteries and hazardous materials. To date, EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard have assessed 344 vessels in Puerto Rico.  In the USVI 448 vessels have been assessed. 


Assessment of Superfund Sites, Oil Sites and Regulated Facilities
EPA has completed preliminary damage assessments at EPA-led Superfund sites, oil sites, and chemical facilities in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to determine if the sites were affected by Hurricane Maria, and is conducting follow-up actions, such as securing the site fence and other structural repairs. In addition, EPA is coordinating with the lead federal agencies responsible for two other sites, Culebra and Vieques.

EPA teams have assessed 285 fixed facilities in Puerto Rico and 91 in the USVI that are regulated under the Risk Management Plan (RMP), Facility Response Plan (FRP), or Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) programs. EPA identified no major spills or releases from these facilities.

Drinking Water and Wastewater Management
EPA is continuing to assess the conditions of drinking water, including sampling, analysis and lab support. EPA is also assisting federal, state and local agencies to assess and identify needed repairs to wastewater conveyance and treatment systems. The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) and the Puerto Rico Department of Health continue to monitor drinking water quality to ensure that PRASA’s drinking water supplies meet local and federal drinking water standards. EPA completed its initial evaluations of non-PRASA drinking water systems in mid-October and continues to support a FEMA Water Task force to bring all of Puerto Rico’s drinking water systems to pre-storm conditions.

As of November 20, EPA completed 1,339 drinking water assessments in the USVI. EPA is continuing to sample drinking water systems identified by DPNR in St. Croix. EPA will continue to coordinate with DPNR to prioritize drinking water facilities to be assessed and sampled. 

Water Safety
Water contaminated with livestock waste, human sewage, chemicals and other contaminants can lead to illness when used for drinking, bathing and other hygiene activities. 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.

EPA field staff speaks with a citizen with others in the backgroundEPA continues its outreach to communities impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Cañabon, Puerto Rico). Photo: Curtesy of EPA