Tucked in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico, the town of Guanica sits on the edge of a small bay that’s only about a quarter of a mile wide. Rafael Rodriguez, a commercial boat captain who has lived in the area his entire life, says that the water is dark, calm, and relaxing. In Guanica, he says, the waterfront is where people gather.
The bordering mountain range protected Guanica from the worst of Hurricane Maria, Rodriguez says, and on the surface life is largely back to the way it was before the storm. But underneath the water, the churning hurricane waves dredged up buried sand and pulled up sediment that was full of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs — old manufacturing chemicals linked to health problems ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer.
“The damage the hurricane did is hiding,” Rodriguez says.
Guanica Bay already had some of of the highest PCB concentrations in North America before the hurricane hit, according to a 2014 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study. Still, the problem has gone largely unaddressed outside of outreach efforts from scientists working in the region. The community of just under 20,000 people, over 60... Read more