Puerto Rico has over 200 hazardous waste sites, including 16 active Superfund sites, resulting in contaminated water resources. Air pollution from refineries, power plants, motor vehicles, and large ships at ports is also very high, and made worse by Saharan dust storms crossing the Atlantic which have increased in frequency in recent decades.
At the same time, Puerto Rico has the highest rate of childhood asthma in the U.S., more than twice that of Hispanic children on the mainland (16.5% versus 7.9%). Puerto Rico’s preterm birth rate has risen dramatically in recent years, from being on par with the US average in the 1990s (12%) to among the highest (16.9%) within the U.S. and the world. Similar trends can be seen in Puerto Rico’s now-higher rates of autism and childhood obesity. In spite of the known pollutant contamination, the connection between exposure to a complex mix of environmental factors and the high rates of adverse health outcomes in Puerto Rico has not yet been comprehensively investigated.