Hurricane Maria caused catastrophic damage in Puerto Rico – many lives were lost, there was damaged infrastructure, little to no electricity, and as reported by media outlets and field observations, communities were vulnerable to environmental contaminants.
For the past six years, Dr. Naresh Kumar, professor of public health sciences at the University of Miami Department of Public Health Sciences, in collaboration with different stakeholders, have conducted research in the Guánica Municipality in Puerto Rico. They have previously found that Guanica Bay has the second-highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) – chemicals that can cause cancer and can have negative effects on the immune, nervous, and endocrine system.
After the hurricane, people in the area began to heavily rely on local resources, like water, fish and other seafood, from local creeks and bays. Based on the groundwork data collected before and after the hurricane, Dr. Kumar and the research team determined that people continue to harvest seafood and fish from the Guánica Bay, further increasing their risk for PCB exposure.
Because of this, Dr. Kumar will be the principal investigator on a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)-funded project that will continue to assess PCB levels in the Guánica Bay. Dr. Kumar will collect and examine PCB samples, including air, fish, seafood, and sediment, conduct a comprehensive survey to assess the post-hurricane impact on community infrastructure and determine the community’s reliance on the bay for seafood and fish.
The results of this study could provide updated levels of PCB in the Guánica Bay, as well as formulate preventative measures to manage the exposure.Friday Letter Submission, Publish on August 02