Desperate Puerto Ricans are drinking water from a hazardous-waste site

Dorado, Puerto Rico (CNN) Jose Luis Rodriguez anxiously waited in line Friday to fill plastic-type jugs in the back of his pickup truck along with water for drinking, doing the meals and bathing.

But there is something relating to this water Rodriguez didn’t know: It had been being pumped to him simply by water authorities from a federally specified hazardous-waste site, CNN learned right after reviewing Superfund documents and meeting with federal and local officials.
Rodriguez, 66, is so desperate for water this news didn’t startle him.

“I don’t have an option, ” he said. “This may be the only option I have. ”
More than three days after Hurricane Maria ravaged this particular island, more than 35% from the island’s residents — American citizens — remain without safe drinking water.

It’s crystal clear some residents are turning to possibly risky sources to get by.

Friday mid-day, CNN watched workers from the Puerto Rican water utility, Autoridad sobre Acueductos y Alcantarillados, or AAA, distribute water from a well in the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site, that was listed in 2016 as part of the federal Superfund program for hazardous waste cleaning.
Residents such as Rodriguez filled small bottles from the hose and piled them within their vehicles. Large trucks with cylindrical tanks on their backs carried water to people elsewhere. Some of the trucks transported the name of the municipality of Dorado. Other people simply were labeled with the terms “Agua Potable, ” Spanish meant for potable water.
In announcing the addition of the particular Dorado site to the Superfund system, the US Environmental Protection Agency says the area has been polluted with industrial chemicals, which includes tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, which “can have serious health impacts which includes damage to the liver and maximizing the risk of cancer, ” according to the ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ‘gathering more information’

It’s unclear whether or not there are public health risks from this specific well, however.
The EPA said this plans to do testing in the area this past weekend.
“The EPA is gathering more information in regards to the quality of water from the water wells associated with our Dorado groundwater contaminants site, as well as other Superfund sites within Puerto Rico, ” the company said in a statement issued in order to CNN on Friday. “While a few of these wells are sometimes used to provide water, the EPA is concerned that people might be drinking water that may be contaminated, depending on the nicely. We are mindful of the paramount work of protecting people’s health, well balanced with people’s basic need for drinking water. ”
Local EPA spokesman Elias Rodriguez verified the location is part of a Superfund site.
Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, water authority, was unaware that this properly site was part of the Superfund plan until CNN provided maps displaying that this was the case, according to Luis Melendez, sub-director for environmental conformity at the utility.
Melendez maintained the water is usually fit for public consumption. The particular well was opened on an crisis basis and is not part of the normal drinking water supply, he said.
In 2015, this well in Dorado, that is located near a shopping center, had been found by the EPA to be properly within federal standards for PCE and chloroform, two industrial chemical substances.

‘I’ve never seen this before’

Martyn Smith, a professor of toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley, told CNN the levels of PCE and chloroform would be essentially secure for human consumption. “I more than likely have any problem in drinking this particular water if these were the only chemical substances in it, ” he said. The issue with Superfund sites, he stated, is that you don’t know what else exists.
“I’ve never ever seen this before, ” this individual said, referring to the idea a Superfund site would be used as a supply of public drinking water. Boiling the water, he or she said, would reduce possible contaminants. And it’s somewhat understandable, Smith additional, that people in Puerto Rico would certainly turn to possibly questionable drinking water resources given the scope of the problems.
Nevertheless, a Superfund site — an area with known health risks — is simply about the last place a person would like to turn to find drinking water, even in an emergency, said Erik Olson, head from the health program at the Natural Sources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.
“There are thousands of chemicals available that could be in a Superfund site in support of a relative handful are covered by criteria, ” he said. “What I might be worried about is stuff that isn’t appearing on EPA’s drinking water standards. This just sounds really risky in my experience to be serving water out of the Superfund well. ”
People waiting in line designed for water on Friday were generally unaware of these concerns. Some of them experienced heard the EPA announced immediately that it had received reports that will Puerto Ricans were getting drinking water from Superfund sites. But those people interviewed assumed that wasn’t this particular well.
Mayra Perez, a 59-year-old retiree, expressed pride in the quality from the water.
“I’m sure there are no chemicals within this water, ” she said.
Aixa Chevere, a mother of two, mentioned she would find a new source of drinking water if this site was shown to be polluted. Already, the family spends three to four hrs per day waiting in lines for simple services and goods, including drinking water. “We would boil the water or even search for bottled water” if it had been dangerous, she said. “We might find some other alternative. ”
That day time, however , she loaded the water straight into her trunk of her vehicle.