With 30% of Puerto Ricans still without access to potable drinking water, what can be done to give people the clean water they need?
Potable drinking water is becoming a rarity in Puerto Rico. [Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]
Almost a month after Hurricane Irma hit the island nation of Puerto Rico, its people are still reeling. 80% of the island is still without electricity, though Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Roselló says that he aims to have power restored by mid-December of this year. While this is certainly news of progress, this would mean that there will be many on the island that will have no access to potable water for at least two months.
Needless to say, things on Puerto Rico are dire, especially since a very basic necessity such as water is difficult to come by. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), things are so bad that some people have resorted to drawing water from wells in a site they knew was contaminated.
Authorities warn locals against the dangers of drawing water from a Dorado well in Maguayo [Photo by Arelis R. Hernandez/The Washington Post]
The wells on the Dorado Groundwater Contamination site once provided water for about 67,000 people. Data from two years ago showed that the wells in the western part of the site were contaminated, while water from the eastern part were still drinkable. Unfortunately, the EPA had not been able to clean the site up before Hurricane Maria hit. In spite of this, people had been taking water from the wells in the western side of the site. The EPA had already taken samples from those wells for testing and is expecting the results soon.
Drinking contaminated water can lead to several problems. If you drink contaminated well water, it’s possible that you won’t experience any negative effects. However, it’s also possible that you’ll develop health problems that range from mild to severe.
Water contaminants include bacteria and chemicals such as nitrates. The wells in the Dorado Groundwater Contamination site, however, were found to have been contaminated with two kinds of organic solvents. One is tetrachloroethylene, a substance used in dry cleaning, and the other is trichloroethylene, which removes grease from metal. Both tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene may cause neurological issues, increase cancer risks, and, with trichloroethylene in particular, cardiac defects.
A mother and son collect spring water as a fallen powerline lies in the background. [Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]
Thus, the possible negative effects of drinking the contaminated groundwater goes far beyond nausea or vomiting. However, it’s also possible that people in Puerto Rico who still take water from these contaminated wells don’t have much of a choice.
Of course, there are better alternatives to drinking contaminated groundwater. If you find yourself in a disaster zone and fast running out of potable water, try to look for water that hasn’t been seriously contaminated. You can use things like activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis to remove solvents mixed in with the water.
This, of course, is simply a bandaid solution. Electricity still needs to go back on as soon as possible for the water connections on Puerto Rico to go online again. The problem, of course, is that it may take about two months more before the electricity comes back. That’s a long time to live without drinking water that you and be sure is safe to drink. Until then, unfortunately, the situation on the island will remain difficult.
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