EPA to conduct first official test of Puerto Rico’s water since Hurricane Fiona

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that it will for the first time test air and groundwater in Puerto Rico's southern region, where community leaders have long complained about pollution stemming from companies, including a coal-burning power plant.

The announcement comes amid concerns that contamination may have worsened after Hurricane Fiona swiped the U.S. territory's southwest region in September and unleashed what officials described as historic flooding.

"For decades, too many low-income communities and communities of color have suffered unjustly," EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters on Thursday. "The aftermath of Hurricane Fiona only further highlighted many of the ... disparities."

The EPA said it would invest $100,000 in two pilot projects for the southern coastal city of Guayama, where it will sample air and drinking water wells near where coal combustion residues were buried by the AES power plant.

Officials said they also are determining the quality of the liner placed under a pile of those residues temporarily stored at the power plant. The EPA has previously served the company with notices of violation related to air and coal combustion residue laws.

The federal agency also is trying to improve air quality in the neighboring municipality of Salinas, where it issued violation notifications to a sterilizer facility for emissions of ethylene oxide, an organic compound that the U.S. government says causes cancer.

The EPA said the company, Steri-Tech, has since installed new equipment to control pollution and is testing it.

Said the EPA also will determine whether Fiona damaged any landfills in Puerto Rico, with many of them already over capacity and in violation of federal laws.

"There is no question much more work needs to be done," he said. "The road ahead appears longer than it should."

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