Over two months after Hurricane Maria caused devastation throughout Puerto Rico, some residents are still without power and running water. These issues are just the beginning — potential health crises may arise in the aftermath of this natural disaster.
Excess standing water, lack of clean drinking water, and heaps of debris serve as breeding grounds for waterborne and mosquito-borne diseases.
Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council, stated some additional potential public health concerns, like carbon monoxide poisoning, spoiled food, medical devices that need power, unusable medicine, skin infections, and possible respiratory issues from mold.
“To date, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans do not have access to running water; meanwhile, wastewater treatment plants are relying on generator power, and a significant fraction are not operational,” senators wrote November 7. “Left with no other options, many Puerto Ricans are bathing, washing clothes, and drinking from unsafe water—including streams and rivers contaminated by raw sewage.”
Officials cited over 70 suspected cases of leptospirosis in Puerto Rico along with outbreaks of the stomach flu and pink eye. Although Puerto Rico stated an end to the Zika epidemic, there are concerns that the standing water left behind after the hurricane could threaten the progress.
While swimming may be the most popular recreational activity for children and teens between the ages of seven and 17, officials are discouraging people from swimming, walking barefoot, or drinking potentially contaminated waters when possible.
Residents are collecting rainwater or using drinking water that has to be boiled, which creates further risk of catching illnesses. Many island residents have been relying on receiving meals and supplies from REMA, the Red Cross, World Central Kitchen, and other organizations. Unfortunately, in remote locations where getting access to safe, bottled water may be difficult, there aren’t many other options.
Another concern is the draining of raw sewage and other contaminants into residents’ drinking water sources. Multiple sewage treatment plants were out of service in October due to the lack of power. Since some residents without access to safe water have been using natural freshwater sources like ponds and streams, there’s potential that these water sources have been contaminated.
The initial death toll after the storm was confirmed to be 55 deaths, but it’s feared that the death toll is now much higher.