Puerto Rico residents risk health drinking contaminated water - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Puerto Rico residents risk health drinking contaminated water

Nearly a month after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, residents around the town of Dorado keep tapping into a water faucet behind a chain link fence with a sign that reads 'Danger, do not enter.' (Source: CNN) Nearly a month after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, residents around the town of Dorado keep tapping into a water faucet behind a chain link fence with a sign that reads 'Danger, do not enter.' (Source: CNN)

(CNN) - It's been weeks since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and many residents are still desperate to obtain the basic necessities.

They are so desperate, they may be risking their health by drinking contaminated water.

Nearly a month after Maria hit, residents around the town of Dorado keep tapping into this water faucet behind a chain link fence with a sign that reads "Danger, do not enter."

They come here to fill containers of water, despite the warnings from a police officer. But few of them know the well sits in an area designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund site, where the ground is known to contain dangerously high levels of toxic chemicals.

It's located on the northern edge of the island, west of San Juan.

In the Dorado Superfund site area, there are at least six wells that residents have reportedly tapped into for water. One is accessed in a shopping center parking lot, and there have been long lines of residents waiting in line to fill up what they can.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico insists that the water is safe. He says the territory's Department of Health has tested it.

"Obviously, if it's non-drinking water, we're not going to be serving it," Rossello said. "But if it complies with the clean water act, it is going to happen."

It's not clear if the other wells are safe. An EPA team spent the weekend gathering water samples for further testing.

"We're not saying that someone is in immediate danger by drinking this water," said Gary Lipson, EPA incident commander in Puerto Rico. "We are considering it a long-term risk."

Lipson says they're looking for signs of industrial toxins often linked to serious health problems, including cancer. EPA documents show that as late as last year, dangerous levels of those industrial toxins were found in the ground.

"We are concerned because it's not absolutely clean, pure water," Lipson said. "There are some contaminants."

Right after the EPA team left and locked the site, Juan Carlos Oquendo and his brother showed up, peeled back the fence and filled up dozens of containers with water.

Oquendo said there is no other water, so he'll take the chance. He said if he doesn't drink water he's going to die.

At Oquendo's family's home, the top floor was destroyed by the hurricane. His mother says they've only received two packages of water since the storm.

She's been drinking the water from that potentially contaminated well for two weeks and says she now has stomach pains. She doesn't know for sure, but she thinks it might have something to do with the water she's been drinking.

"She says the stomach pain started two weeks ago, and she is trying to ignore them," said Carmen Rojas, a Dorado resident.

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