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EPA Hurricane Maria Update for Wednesday, October 18th; EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez Meets with Governor Rosselló and Visits Impacted Communities

10/18/2017
Contact Information: 
Press (press@epa.gov)

WASHINGTON (October 18, 2017) — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Pete Lopez continues his visit to Puerto Rico as the agency expands its Hurricane Maria response efforts 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 is meeting 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.

Regional Administrator Lopez will be in Puerto Rico and the USVI all week. Yesterday, he met with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló and other officials, and traveled to the Dorado community, which suffered major damage from the hurricane. Today he will travel to the Caño Martín Peña and Caguas communities.

thee people sitting at a table, talkingRegional Administrator Pete Lopez meets with Governor Ricardo Rosselló.

“I am encouraged by the spirit of resilience I hear in the voices of the Governor and the people I’ve met with in the last two days,” said EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. “We know the challenges ahead are many, but working together we’re seeing progress every day. EPA is committed to doing everything we can to support our commonwealth partners in their efforts to restore Puerto Rico’s families and communities.”

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.

In instances where EPA personnel are the first response workers to arrive in a community, EPA has been following up with FEMA to ensure these communities are supported with water, food, and medical supplies. EPA teams have also distributed flyers and provided materials to communities to register for FEMA assistance. Beginning yesterday, the Puerto Rico Department of State has joined some EPA assessment teams as they visit impacted areas to initiate the distribution of water and food to these communities.

EPA has also been coordinating closely with the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the Puerto Rico Department of Health and the FBI to ensure that water is available to people near the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Superfund site. PRASA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have stationed water trucks near wells in the Dorado community and the FBI is distributing bottled water. Sampling results for the wells at the Dorado Superfund site should be available later this week.

“Yesterday, we saw what can happen when governmental agencies, faith-based organizations and community groups come together to help our neighbors,” said Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. “EPA commends the Governor’s office, PRASA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Puerto Rico Department of Health, FEMA and the FBI for their efforts to provide water to the Dorado community.”

Personnel

EPA continues to deploy personnel to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as conditions allow. As of October 17, 2017:

•           About 279 personnel are currently involved in hurricane response efforts.

•           About 65 personnel are on the ground in USVI to assist with response efforts.

•           About 116 personnel are on the ground in Puerto Rico to assist with response efforts.

Debris Management

EPA is in the process of 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 208 fixed facilities in Puerto Rico and 49 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

In the USVI, EPA has completed the assessment of potable drinking water supplies at schools. 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.

For information and updates, visit: https://www.epa.gov/hurricane-maria.