The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico has the worst rate of drinking water violations of any U.S. jurisdiction, with dangerous contaminants ranging from lead to disinfectants to coliform bacteria, an environmental group said Wednesday.
Nearly the entire island was supplied in 2015 with water from systems that violated the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which used the most recent statistics available.
“Most of these violations were for failure to test the water’s safety or failure to report issues to the public or health authorities as required,” the group said.
Officials said many of the violations have occurred for years, noting that there were nearly 34,000 violations from 2005 to 2015. In 2015 alone, nearly half of more than 400 water systems across the island violated federal health standards, according to the environmental group.
Karim Del Valle, a spokesman for Puerto Rico’s Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, said the agency had no immediate comment.
The group said nearly the entire population of 3.4 million people was served by systems that violated standards regulating the presence of lead and copper. It said all but one of the more than 600 violations were for failure to test for lead or report problems to the public or health authorities.
Nearly 10 percent of the island’s 300-plus water systems that serve small, rural communities were labeled serious violators in 2011 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Only one of those systems was in compliance in early 2015, the Natural Resources Defense Council said.
The group urged the U.S. territory’s government and a fiscal control board overseeing the administration’s finances to provide money for projects to improve the utility’s infrastructure.
Puerto Rico’s government, however, is struggling to provide basic services amid a 10-year-old recession. The water and sewer authority holds roughly $5 billion of the island’s overall $73 billion public debt load that the government is seeking to restructure.
Previous cases settled between the water and sewer authority and the EPA did not result in any penalties because of what the federal agency said was “documented financial hardship” facing the island’s government.