Martyn Smith, a professor of toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley, told CNN the levels of PCE and chloroform would be essentially safe for human consumption. “I wouldn’t have any problem in drinking this water if these were the only chemicals in it,” he said. The problem with Superfund sites, he said, is that you don’t know what else is present.
“I’ve never seen this before,” he said, referring to the idea a Superfund site would be used as a source of public drinking water. Boiling the water, he said, would reduce possible contamination. And it’s somewhat understandable, Smith added, that people in Puerto Rico would turn to possibly questionable drinking water sources given the scope of the crisis.
Still, a Superfund site — a location with known health risks — is just about the last place a person would want to turn to find drinking water, even in a crisis, said Erik Olson, head of the health program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.
“There are thousands of chemicals out there that could be in a Superfund site and only a relative handful are covered by standards,” he said. “What I would be worried about is stuff that isn’t showing up on EPA’s drinking water standards. It just sounds really risky to me to be serving water out of a Superfund well.”
People waiting in line for water on Friday were largely unaware of these concerns. Some of them had heard the EPA announced this week that it had received reports that Puerto Ricans were getting water from Superfund sites. But those interviewed assumed that wasn’t this well.
Mayra Perez, a 59-year-old retiree, expressed pride in the quality of the water.
“I’m sure there are no chemicals in this water,” she said.
Aixa Chevere, a mother of two, said she would find a new source of water if this site was shown to be contaminated. Already, the family spends three to four hours per day waiting in lines for basic services and goods, including water. “We would boil the water or search for bottled water” if it were dangerous, she said. “We would find some other alternative.”
That day, however, she loaded the water into her trunk of her car.