Environmental PCB Redistribution and Community Exposure after Hurricane Maria

Project: Research project

Project Details


Environmental PCB Redistribution and Community Exposure after Hurricane Maria Hurricane Maria, the 10th most intense hurricane, caused catastrophic damage in Puerto Rico (PR). While accounting continues for loss of life and damaged infrastructure, media reports and our field observations suggest that communities may be subject to elevated exposure to environmental contaminants after the hurricane due to increased community reliance on local resources including drinking water from the local creeks and fishing and harvesting seafood from the local bays. We have found the second highest concentration of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) in the US in the sediment of Guánica Bay, located in Southern West part of PR. The high levels are of particular concern after the hurricane because of the potential redistribution of PCB within populated areas due to storm surge and because of the increased community reliance on the bay and nearby areas for harvesting fish and seafood due to lack of meats and seafood available for purchase in grocery stores and markets. For the past six years, our team has been pursuing collaborative research with different stakeholders in Guánica Municipality, and engaging them in the dissemination of information resulting from this research. Our preliminary data before and after the hurricane suggest that communities living around the bay still lack awareness about the PCB contamination of the bay and continue to harvest seafood and fish from the area. Capitalizing on our partnership with the local stakeholders, support from our community partners, and solid baseline sediment and fish data collected in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and community survey data collected in 2014, 2015 and very recently after Hurricane Maria in November 2017, this project will a) examine the impact of Hurricane Maria on PCB redistribution in and around Guánica Bay and b) assess changes in community exposure to PCBs through inhalation and consumption of contaminated seafood and fish. Our central hypothesis is that exposures are increased through inhalation and ingestion routes. We hypothesize that airborne PCBs are higher due to the resuspension of PCB-laden sediments which encourages the volatilization of PCB and exposure through inhalation routes. We hypothesize that ingestion routes are increased due to the increased consumption of locally harvested and PCB-contaminated seafood and fish due to difficulties in transporting supplies throughout the country. Environmental PCBs (including air, fish and seafood and sediment) samples will be collected and examined, and a comprehensive community survey will be administered to assess post-hurricane impact on community infrastructure and community reliance on the bay for seafood and fish. The results of this unique natural experiment not only will help us assess community exposure to environmental contaminants, but will also be used to formulate community centered preventive measures to manage PCB exposure in Guánica Municipality.
Effective start/end date4/1/183/31/20


  • National Institutes of Health: $268,625.00
  • National Institutes of Health: $153,500.00


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