Hurricanes Irma/Maria recovery continues
By the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues dedicated efforts to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands recover from 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria, EPA is keenly aware of and sensitive to community needs. As the new Atlantic hurricane season kicked off on June 1, EPA is reminding people, businesses and state and local governments where they can find the best information on preparedness before hurricane-force winds or storm flooding may occur.
“EPA’s response to natural disasters is one of the many ways that we protect human health and the environment,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “We want to inform the public of how they can prepare for hurricane season and help protect their communities, the environment, and first responders by mitigating hazardous waste and securing potential harmful debris before storms strike.”
“Disaster preparedness coupled with maintaining comprehensive response and recovery capabilities are vital to protecting communities and minimizing and recovering from storm damage,” EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez said. “We stand ready with our partners on every level to respond to any challenges that may result from the 2019 hurricane season. EPA’s preparedness and rapid response teams in the Caribbean and across Region 2 stand ready to engage our partners in providing the necessary support to protect public health and the environment.”
Lopez added, “EPA understands that effective emergency response and recovery is most successful when every person, community, business leader and government official is prepared. In addition, we take this opportunity to remind facility operators of their legal obligations to prevent, minimize and report chemical releases in order to fully protect people and the environment. EPA is also urging those who live in hurricane-prone areas, such as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, to take proactive steps now to be prepared for hurricane season.”
Debris and household hazardous waste management is always challenging during natural disasters and has a great impact on public safety. Based on the 2017 and 2018 responses to hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Florence, EPA responders were in the field during the aftermath of the hurricanes and managed a tremendous amount of waste as part of the recovery efforts, including:
•About 470,100 containers (drums, oil containers, propane tanks) recovered.
•Approximately 2,900 vessels recovered or closed.
EPA's hurricane website includes information for business operators on preventing and reporting chemical releases due to severe weather. Local governments and community agencies can find suggestions for preparing and protecting water and wastewater facilities. There is also detailed information for debris management planning, since storm debris can occur in enormous amounts that overwhelm local landfills, and can also present serious dangers to human health and the environment.
To aid facilities, EPA has posted specific information about release prevention and preparedness requirements and that clarifies reporting requirements, including exemptions.
Unlike some natural disasters, the onset of a hurricane is predictable and allows for early preparations to lessen its effect on a facility. This information is available at: https://www.epa.gov/hurricanes.
To help individuals and families prepare for hurricane season, there are also resources available on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) websites in English at www.Ready.gov and in Spanish at www.Listo.gov.
Should hurricanes strike, EPA plays a critical role in responding and in helping with long-term recovery. In September 2017, EPA responded, in partnership with the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands governments and partner federal agencies, to the devastation that hurricanes Irma and Maria left in their wakes. EPA deployed a total of more than 700 personnel in its response.
Included in EPA’s work was collecting hazardous materials and hazardous waste, assessing wastewater treatment plants and pumping stations; assessing more than 200 rural, “non-PRASA” (Non-Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority) drinking water systems in Puerto Rico; assessing Superfund sites and chemical, waste and oil facilities; rebuilding Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board’s scientific laboratory; and, helping repair air monitoring networks in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
EPA has transitioned from emergency response to long-term recovery work with the overarching goal of helping Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands communities build capacity and regain their footing. EPA is actively working on a multitude of issues, including solid waste, drinking water in small rural communities, stormwater management and resiliency, septic tank replacement, brownfields and workforce development, as well as coral reef preservation and protection.
For more information about EPA’s response to hurricanes Maria and Irma, visit Hurricane Maria at https://www.epa.gov/hurricane-maria
On June 4, EPA and FEMA announced a memorandum of understanding that streamlines coordination between FEMA and the EPA-funded state revolving fund (SRF) programs so that funding to restore vital water infrastructure can be provided as quickly as possible in times of disaster. In disaster situations where cash reserves are stretched thin, the EPA-FEMA MOU provides a tribe or local government access to a no-interest or low-interest loan from its SRF to help pay for the immediate restoration of vital drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.