Team from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Conducts Health Impact Assessment for the Caño Martín Peña Ecosystem Restoration Project in Puerto Rico
The HIA, conducted with funding by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, will be used to recommend actions to protect the health of local residents
The Health Impact Assessment (HIA) conducted for the proposed environmental restoration project of the Caño Martín Peña, a 3.7 mile-long tidal channel located within the San Juan Bay National Estuary in Puerto Rico, showed that delays in implementing the project have had adverse effects on the health of local residents, thus “making the population sicker.”
"People living in the Martín Peña community are dealing with frequent floods that carry polluted water," said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. "I am especially concerned about children being exposed to bacteria, pathogens and other contaminants from floodwaters. The study announced today unequivocally shows the urgent need for government at all levels to address the serious environmental health problems faced by Caño communities."
A team from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, recently ranked in the top 20 accredited schools in the United States, conducted the HIA in the Caño Martín Peña (CMP) over a period of 15 months between 2013 and 2014. The Assessment was possible thanks to a grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.
“The higher rates of chronic disease and acute illness in residents of the CMP, compared to the Puerto Rican population at large, can be attributed to the deteriorating conditions in the CMP,” said Perry Sheffield, MD, Assistant Professor in Preventive Medicine and Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and a member of the team that conducted the Health Impact Assessment. “We can now definitively say that once the restoration project is implemented, we expect to see health outcomes greatly improve.”
“This assessment reiterates what we as residents already know. The delays we have encountered in order to complete the financing required to start dredging in 2016 are sickening our people,” said Mario Núñez Mercado, president of the G-8. “This project is a solution, not only to prevent our children from getting sick, but also to recover an asset for Puerto Rico's economic development.”
Highlights from the HIA:
• The environmental condition of CMP is linked to a number of specific diseases: diarrheal illnesses are higher in persons living closer to the channel; asthma rates for children under 5 years of age are twice that for the same age group elsewhere in Puerto Rico; and dengue infections are clustered around flood areas and illegal dumpsites in the CMP community.
• “Chemical, bacterial, and pest exposures will overall be decreased for the majority of the residents when the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) is implemented.”
• “The high burden of diseases that negatively affect many CMP residents, such as asthma, diarrhea, and lack of physical activity, will likely be reduced when the CDP is implemented.”
• As the CMP deteriorates the prevalence of flooding in the area has increased. In 2002, 39% of the CMP community surveyed reported that their home or surrounding areas were flooded during the previous year.” Ten years later, in 2012, “nearly 70% reported flooding near their home, indicating the vast majority of the residents are directly impacted by these events.”
• Children are particularly impacted by the flooding, not only in terms of their exposure but in terms of their education. “School directors reported as high as 50% absenteeism during flooding events which can occur up to dozens of times a year and last multiple days at a time. Additionally, students often lose educational materials due to flooding including books and computers.”
• Flooding affects both the student’s chances of academic success as well as employment, as it interferes with regular work attendance.
The HIA uses health impact predictions for the proposed restoration to recommend actions to promote those positive health findings from the project, as well as ameliorate potential adverse health effects that may arise from the works once they begin.
In partnership with the organized communities represented by the G-8, Inc., the Caño Martín Peña Community Land Trust, the private sector and the government authorities, ENLACE promotes an inclusive city. Building upon the capacities of the 26,000 residents in eight densely populated communities, mostly informal settlements along the Caño Martin Peña, ENLACE seeks to overcome poverty, and attain social and environmental justice. By addressing major environmental degradation issues, it promotes safer and healthier communities and a restored San Juan Bay National Estuary System.
Sobre el G-8, Inc.
The G-8, Inc. is a non-profit organization that unites the leadership of 12 grassroots groups representing the residents of the eight communities surrounding the Caño Martín Peña. The eight communities are Israel - Bitumul, Parada 27, Las Monjas, Barrio Obrero San Ciprián y Oeste, Barrio Obrero Marina, Península de Cantera, Buena Vista Santurce y Buena Vista Hato Rey.
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