By Michael Melia
16 October 2017

CAGUAS, Puerto Rico (Associated Press) – Raw sewage is pouring into the rivers and reservoirs of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. People without running water bathe and wash their clothes in contaminated streams, and some islanders have been drinking water from condemned wells.

Nearly a month after the hurricane made landfall, Puerto Rico is only beginning to come to grips with a massive environmental emergency that has no clear end in sight.

"I think this will be the most challenging environmental response after a hurricane that our country has ever seen," said Judith Enck, who served as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency region that includes Puerto Rico under President Barack Obama.

With hundreds of thousands of people still without running water, and 20 of the island's 51 sewage treatment plants out of service, there are growing concerns about contamination and disease.

"People in the U.S. can't comprehend the scale and scope of what's needed," said Drew Koslow, an ecologist with the nonprofit Ridge to Reefs who recently spent a week in Puerto Rico working with a portable water purification system.

People in Puerto Rico cluster along roadways to bathe and do laundry using water sent down from higher elevations in PVC pipes. Some collect water to take home, for flushing toilets and cleaning. Carmen Rodriguez, 70, bathes using the improvised water system. Photo: Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo / The New York Times

EPA officials said that of last week they still had not been unable to inspect five of the island's 18 Superfund sites — highly contaminated toxic sites targeted for cleanup because of risks to human health and the environment — including the former U.S. Navy bombing range on the island of Vieques.

"I just wish we had more resources to deal with it," said Catherine McCabe, the EPA deputy regional administrator. [more]

Raw sewage contaminating waters in Puerto Rico after Maria

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