Political News

Leading Democrat calls for Puerto Rico water investigation

Posted October 14, 2017 8:33 p.m. EDT

— A leading House Democrat has asked the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the water situation in Puerto Rico after a published report that people were drinking water taken from a federally designated hazardous-waste site.

The request comes a day after a story from CNN's John Sutter concerning workers from the Puerto Rican water utility Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados distributing water from a well at the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site. The site was listed in 2016 as part of the federal Superfund program for hazardous water cleanup.

Many Puerto Ricans have been struggling to find clean drinking water since September 20 after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, home to 3.4 million people.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, wrote a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke asking for the investigation. Thompson, from Mississippi, said he wanted to know whether she was aware Americans there are drinking water from possibly contaminated sources.

"Reports of Puerto Ricans waiting hours to receive potentially contaminated water that could have long-term health consequences is beyond disturbing," Thompson said Saturday. "That it happened on days after EPA warned the people of Puerto Rico to refrain from breaking into Superfund sites to access water suggests a troubling breakdown in coordination among the federal entities playing a role in federal disaster response activities. "

The EPA had told CNN it was planning to do testing on wells around the Dorado site this weekend.

"While some of these wells are sometimes used to provide drinking water, the EPA is concerned that people could be drinking water that may be contaminated, depending on the well," the agency said Friday. "We are mindful of the paramount job of protecting people's health, balanced with people's basic need for water."

In announcing the addition last year of the Dorado site to the Superfund program, the US Environmental Protection Agency said the area was polluted with industrial chemicals, including tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, which "can have serious health impacts including damage to the liver and increasing the risk of cancer," according to the EPA.

CNN reached out Saturday to the Department of Homeland Security for comment on Thompson's request, but didn't receive a reply.

According to Puerto Rican officials, 64% of the commonwealth's homes and businesses had potable water as of Saturday.