Trump Failed Puerto Rico. These People Picked up the Cost
By Jeremy Deaton
Every morning, Luz Hernandez goes to work at her hair salon on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood fixture without a website or a Facebook page, where a trim costs $40 and customers can get a cup of coffee while they wait. Every night, she returns to a full fridge in an air-conditioned home in the Bronx. Income from the salon allows her to live comfortably, though not lavishly — but compared to her family in Puerto Rico, who were devastated by Hurricane Maria, she feels like royalty.
After the hurricane, she recalls thinking, "I have everything here — water, lights, a roof over my head — and they're over there without any lights." Hernandez said she could not sit down to a hot meal in a cool home while her brothers and nieces and nephews on the island languished without food or air conditioning. Worried about her family, she took it upon herself to deliver the relief the federal government had failed to provide.
In the aftermath of the storm, Hernandez said, she spent around $8,000 to send aid to family back home, in addition to another $2,000 donated by her clients. "I swear to God, I have the best clients," she said. The money paid for canned beef and chicken, coffee, peanut butter, batteries, solar-powered radios and lamps, as well as generators needed to operate fans, refrigerators and medical equipment, such as her brother's dialysis machine.
"I don't think I did anything so heroic. I did what I had to do," she said. "I took care of whoever needed the most." She only wishes the government had done the same.
Luz Hernandez has spent $8,000 sending canned food, batteries and power generators to her family in Puerto Rico.
Source: Nexus Media
Hernandez is remarkable, though not unusual, among members of the Puerto Rican diaspora — many of whom devoted hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to helping victims of Hurricane Maria. Those interviewed for this story said they were angry that the government had failed to provide relief, particularly to rural areas, and they remain baffled that President Trump continues to oppose additional disaster aid for the island, which is still recovering from the storm.
Fernando "Ponce" Laspina, who runs El Maestro Inc., a boxing gym and Puerto Rican cultural center in the Bronx, recalled the lack of aid after Maria. "The federal government really didn't do the job," he said. "We know a lot of older people who died because they didn't get help on time." Like Hernandez, he made it his mission to help those who were left behind.
Fernando Laspina at El Maestro, Inc.
Source: Eddie Aguiar, Hunter College
Laspina said that after the hurricane, El Maestro Inc. filled three 40,000-pound shipping containers with food, water and medical supplies — wheelchairs, walkers, diapers and medicine — and paid around $5,500 to ship each one to a different town desperate for aid. The organization relied on donations and volunteer labor. Dozens of people showed up from around New York City and as far afield as Connecticut and Ohio to contribute goods and help fill the containers.
"We had all kinds of people here," he said. "There were no barriers, you know — black people, white people, Chinese people, young, old, female, male, gay people — it didn't matter. It was just one big family in New York City coming together for Puerto Rico." Meanwhile, he added, "No help from the elected officials."
Edna Benitez took a similar tack, working with Proyecto Matria, a human rights group, to bring relief to a community overlooked for disaster aid. She focused her efforts on Miraflores, a small, mountain town in central Puerto Rico. "This is a community that was marginalized prior to the hurricane," she said. "After the hurricane, they were just devastated, and they spent several weeks without food and just drinking water from the falls."
Edna Benitez, rebuilding a home in Miraflores
Source: Edna Benitez
Benitez was aghast at the dearth of federal aid after the storm. "I said to myself, 'Where is FEMA? Where is the help that we're supposed to get? Are we a part of the United States?'" she said. On Trump, she said, "We know what his agenda is. He wants to build a wall, and he needs funding for that, and I think that that's more important [to him] than people's lives and people's homes and people's dignity." Trump has pushed Congress to include $4 billion in border wall funding in its disaster relief package, all while fighting against additional aid for Puerto Rico.
Frustrated by the government's response to Maria, Benitez partnered with Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan to raise money for her work in Puerto Rico. Donations paid for her and other volunteers to travel to Miraflores to rebuild homes, set up cisterns, and help community members develop small businesses selling locally grown foods and knitted goods. Benitez, 61, has been to Puerto Rico eight times since Hurricane Maria. She has painted houses, sealed roofs and cleared land for farming, dipping into her savings to help fund her efforts. In July, she will be taking a group of teenagers to Miraflores to do farm work.
Contemplating the work of people like Benitez, lifelong New Yorker Elena Martinez said, "The communities in the diaspora in Florida, in Chicago, in New York and Connecticut, they just came through." She added, "I guess it's more real when you know people who were literally affected by it."
Bobby Sanabria, on drums, and his Multiverse Big Band playing a benefit concert for Puerto Rico musicians, October 2017
Source: Bob Ramos
Martinez, who runs the Bronx Music Heritage Center with Puerto Rican jazz drummer Bobby Sanabria, raised money to help musicians on the island pay for housing, food and gas after Maria shut down theaters, restaurants and hotels, making it difficult for them to find work. Sanabria put together a benefit concert after Maria, raising $10,000 for the Jazz Foundation of America's Puerto Rico Relief Fund. He subsequently produced a record of the music of West Side Story, devoting a portion of the proceeds to the effort.
Elsewhere in the city, Surey Miranda and her husband, Victor Martinez, helped families fleeing the hurricane resettle in New York. She and her husband run a Spanish-language website with resources for newcomers, and work closely with displaced families to help them secure housing and apply for food stamps. Miranda said chats about how best to navigate the government bureaucracy can turn into long conversations about the trauma of living through a natural disaster. She said that, in the first few months after the hurricane, she spent around 30 hours a week helping people, sometimes staying up until 3 a.m. consoling survivors, all while working a full-time job.
Surey Miranda (left) with her husband Victor Martinez (right)
Source: Victor Martinez
Miranda believes Trump has neglected Puerto Rico because people living on the island, while citizens, cannot vote for president and have no representation in Congress. However, she said, millions of people of Puerto Rican descent living on the mainland can vote, and they do have some measure of political power. "If you see the numbers, there are more Puerto Ricans stateside than on the island," she said.
Martinez believes the Puerto Rican diaspora, which proved critical in providing relief after the storm, could take Trump to task at the ballot box. "The people here on the mainland who can vote will hopefully take this into account when elections come up," she said.
Moreover, because Maria spurred so many families to migrate to the mainland, where they can vote, the diaspora is gaining power in states like Florida and Pennsylvania. Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria now have the chance to oust a president who refuses to provide the aid the island needs.
Hernandez took some comfort in this. "It's really sad that he's such a racist," she said. "The thing is, the people who moved to … Florida or wherever, they could now go register and vote, maybe change the color of the state."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. D-Keine / E+ / Getty Images
By Jake Johnson
Democrats in the House and Senate on Tuesday introduced sweeping legislation that would ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. and institute stronger protections for farmworkers and communities that have been exposed to damaging chemicals by the agriculture industry.
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By Alex Thornton
The Australian government has announced a A$190 million (US$130 million) investment in the nation's first Recycling Modernization Fund, with the aim of transforming the country's waste and recycling industry. The hope is that as many as 10,000 jobs can be created in what is being called a "once in a generation" opportunity to remodel the way Australia deals with its waste.
Waste Mountain<p>The need for a dramatic increase in Australia's recycling capacity pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-27/where-does-all-australias-waste-go/11755424" target="_blank">Australians create approximately 67 million tons of waste a year</a>, and like in many wealthy countries, much of that was sent overseas. That all changed when China announced it was <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/china-has-banned-foreign-waste-so-whats-the-future-of-world-recycling" target="_blank">banning the import of a huge range of foreign waste</a> and recyclables. Soon <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/malaysia-flooded-with-plastic-waste-to-send-back-some-scrap-to-source" target="_blank">other countries followed suit</a>, and Australia was forced to look for alternative solutions.</p>
Biggest exporters of plastic. Statista
Waste Export Ban<p>Australia has adopted a strategy of taking responsibility for its own waste. Starting in January 2021, it is phasing in <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/waste-export-ban" target="_blank">bans on the export of different forms of waste</a>. By mid 2024, Australia's home-grown recycling industry will have to deal with an extra 650,000 tons of waste plastic, paper, glass and tires.</p><p>"As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy," federal environment minister Sussan Ley said in a <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">statement to Reuters</a>.</p>
Timeline for Australia's waste export ban. Australian Government
Trash Into Treasure<p>The benefits to the environment of boosting recycling rates are well known – less landfill, less plastic in our ocean, reduced need for virgin materials, and lower carbon emissions. The Recycling Modernization Fund initiative aims to divert more than 10 million tons of waste from landfill, part of an <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/publications/national-waste-policy-action-plan" target="_blank">overall strategy to reduce the total waste generated per person by 10%</a>, and push <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/7381c1de-31d0-429b-912c-91a6dbc83af7/files/national-waste-report-2018.pdf" target="_blank">Australia's total resource recovery rate from 58% in 2017</a> to 80% by 2030.</p><p>But like many countries, Australia is focusing on the economic benefits of better waste management as well.</p><p>"This will mean Australia converts more waste into higher valued resources ready for reuse locally by manufacturers and brands in their packaging and products," Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">told Reuters</a>.</p>
Green Jobs<p>The great potential of the circular economy to create green jobs is being recognized across the world.</p><p>In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Program has launched a <a href="https://wrap.org.uk/buildbackbetter" target="_blank">six-point plan which it claims could add $90 billion to the economy, and create 500,000 new jobs</a>. Investment in the circular economy forms a significant part of the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan that Democratic candidate Joe Biden</a> is taking into November's US presidential election. And the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_940" target="_blank">European Union has put its Green New Deal at the heart of its plans for recovery</a> from the economic shock of COVID-19.</p><p>The World Economic Forum's <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_Future_Of_Nature_And_Business_2020.pdf" target="_blank">Future of Nature and Business</a> report identifies 15 systemic transitions with annual business opportunities worth $10 billion a year that could create 395 million jobs by 2030.</p><p>As is the case with Australia's Recycling Modernization Fund, a combination of private enterprise and government investment can offer ways to get people back to work by building a more environmentally sustainable economy.</p>
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The Great American Outdoors Act is now the law of the land.
<div id="e0008" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ffc07febbf5d2d585ad06d3f43e2be56"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290667833999929344" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Breaking News: The President has just signed the bipartisan #GreatAmericanOutdoorsAct. It will help: 🏗️ Restore… https://t.co/RPefKPMn7S</div> — Fix Our Parks (@Fix Our Parks)<a href="https://twitter.com/FixOurParksUS/statuses/1290667833999929344">1596554165.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Andrew J. Whelton and Caitlin R. Proctor
In recent years wildfires have entered urban areas, causing breathtaking destruction.
Survivors left everything to flee the Camp Fire's path. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Wildfires and Water<p>Both the Tubbs and Camp fires destroyed fire hydrants, water pipes and meter boxes. Water leaks and ruptured hydrants were common. The Camp Fire inferno spread at a speed of one football field per second, chasing everyone – including water system operators – out of town.</p><p>After the fires passed, testing ultimately revealed widespread hazardous drinking water contamination. Evidence suggests that the toxic chemicals originated from a combination of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">burning vegetation, structures and plastic materials</a>.</p>
Pipes, water meters and meter covers after wildfires destroyed them. Caitlin Proctor, Amisha Shah, David Yu, and Andrew Whelton/Purdue University
Dangerous Contamination Levels<p>Benzene was found at concentrations of 40,000 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water after the Tubbs Fire and at more than 2,217 ppb after the Camp Fire. According to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, children exposed to benzene for a single day can suffer <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Benzene-Levels-in-Water.pdf" target="_blank">harm at levels as low as 26 ppb</a>.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting children's short-term acute exposure to <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-03/documents/dwtable2018.pdf" target="_blank">200 ppb</a>, and long-term exposure to less than <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water-regulations" target="_blank">5 ppb</a>. The EPA regulatory level for what constitutes a hazardous waste is <a href="https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/tclp.pdf" target="_blank">500 ppb</a>.</p><p>In early 2019, California conducted contaminated water testing on humans by taking contaminated water from the Paradise Irrigation District and asking persons to smell it. The state found that even when people smelled contaminated water that had less than 200 ppb benzene, <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Dissipatiion-of-Burn-Related-VOC-From-Water.pdf" target="_blank">at least one person reported nausea and throat irritation</a>. The test also showed that water contained a variety of other benzene-like compounds that first responders had not sampled for.</p><p>The officials who carried out this small-scale test did not appear to realize the significance of what they had done, until we asked whether they had had their action approved in advance by an institutional review board. In response, they asserted that such a review was not needed.</p><p>In our view, this episode is telling for two reasons. First, one subject reported an adverse health effect after being exposed to water that contained benzene at a level below the EPA's recommended one-day limit for children. Second, doing this kind of test without proper oversight suggests that officials greatly underestimated the potential for serious contamination of local water supplies and public harm. After the Camp Fire, together with the EPA, we estimated that some plastic pipes needed <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/opinions/Final-HDPE-Service-Line-Decontamination-2019-03-18.pdf" target="_blank">more than 280 days</a> of flushing to make them safe again.</p>
Plastic pipes can be damaged by heat and fire contact. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Building Codes Could Make Areas Disaster-Ready<p>Our research underscores that community building codes are inadequate to prevent wildfire-caused pollution of drinking water and homes.</p><p>Installing one-way valves, called backflow prevention devices, at each water meter can prevent contamination rushing out of the damaged building from flowing into the larger buried pipe network.</p><p>Adopting codes that required builders to install fire-resistant meter boxes and place them farther from vegetation would help prevent infrastructure from burning so readily in wildfires. Concrete meter boxes and water meters with minimal plastic components would be less likely to ignite. Some plastics may be practically impossible to make safe again, since all types are susceptible to fire and heat.</p><p>Water main shutoff valves and water sampling taps should exist at every water meter box. Sample taps can help responders quickly determine water safety.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9540d7e271306ed417112042a3efc9a4"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GnlrzI1wdAI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Smell Test Doesn’t Work<p>Under no circumstance should people be told to <a href="https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/press_room/press_releases/2018/pr122418_voc.pdf" target="_blank">smell the water</a> to determine its safety, as was recommended for months after the Camp Fire. Many chemicals have no odor when they are harmful. Only testing can determine safety.</p><p>Ordering people to boil their water will not make it safe if it contains toxic chemicals that enter the air. Boiling just transmits those substances into the air faster. "Do not use" orders can keep people safe until agencies can test the water. Before such advisories are lifted or modified, regulators should be required to carry out a full chemical screen of the water systems. Yet, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">disaster</a> after <a href="https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2017/ew/c5ew00294j" target="_blank">disaster</a>, government agencies have failed to take this step.</p><p>Buildings should be tested to find contamination. <a href="https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2020/Q1/study-your-homes-water-quality-could-vary-by-the-room-and-the-season.html" target="_blank">Home drinking water quality can differ from room to room</a>, so reliable testing should sample both cold and hot water at many locations within each building.</p><p>While infrastructure is being repaired, survivors need a safe water supply. Water treatment devices sold for home use, such as refrigerator and faucet water filters, are not approved for extremely contaminated water, although product sales representatives and government officials may <a href="https://undark.org/2019/09/19/camp-fire-california-drinking-water-carcinogens/" target="_blank">mistakenly think</a> the devices can be used for that purpose.</p><p>To avoid this kind of confusion, external technical experts should be called in assist local public health departments, which can quickly become overwhelmed after disasters.</p>
<div id="71cf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e059d199e8368d282a31601e372e4dda"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1204068265980547075" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee signed off on an effort to expand the city's fire-re… https://t.co/fP8Z8mUq7R</div> — IntlCodeCouncil (@IntlCodeCouncil)<a href="https://twitter.com/IntlCodeCouncil/statuses/1204068265980547075">1575907219.0</a></blockquote></div>
Preparing for Future Fires<p>The damage that the Tubbs and Camp fires caused to local water systems was preventable. We believe that urban and rural communities, as well as state legislatures, should establish codes and lists of authorized construction materials for high-risk areas. They also should establish rapid methods to assess health, prepare for water testing and decontamination, and set aside emergency water supplies.</p><p>Wildfires are coming to urban areas. Protecting drinking water systems, buried underground or in buildings, is one thing communities can do to prepare for that reality.</p>
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By Zulfikar Abbany
"We don't have a definition of life," says Kevin Peter Hand, one early California morning when we speak via video. "We don't actually know what life is."