Environ Justice. 2018 Aug 1;11(4):148-153. doi: 10.1089/env.2018.0003.
This article presents an overview of our research team’s disaster response to the massive destruction of Hurricanes, Irma and Maria, in September 2017, in light of the 120-year colonial legacy and long-term, widespread environmental contamination in Puerto Rico. Both local and federal governmental responses have been extremely inadequate, especially in light of the long-standing issues of environmental contamination throughout the island. Community organizations in Puerto Rico have been fighting for environmental justice for decades, often succeeding, and always confronting government unwillingness to address environmental protection. Hurricanes Irma and Maria afforded attention to Puerto Rico through international news coverage and awareness of its colonial status, rundown infrastructures (especially the electric grid), indebtedness, and environmental hazards. Since the hurricanes, the research teams of the Puerto Rico Test Site to Explore Contamination Threats (PROTECT), the Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development (CRECE), and Zika in Infants and Pregnancy (ZIP) have worked tirelessly to address the needs of our research participants, partnering clinics, as well as the local team to ensure safety and wellness. We have been able to continue our environmental public health work with pregnant women and children. In response to the historical problems and current crisis, we offer a “visionary rebuilding” approach for remediation of the hurricanes’ effects, and for a deeper solution to the environmental and other social injustices Puerto Rico has long faced.