Puerto Rico Limpio visits toxic landfill that EPA said would close by June 30. “Very serious violations” are documented
(FLORIDA, Puerto Rico – July 8, 2016) The municipal landfill in Florida that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly promised to close since 2007 is still open, according to an investigative visit by Puerto Rico Limpio this week. This means the EPA has once again failed to enforce its own rules and is allowing a dangerous site to continue to contaminate groundwater and threaten public health.
The EPA had announced in March of this year that Florida landfill would close by June 30, 2016.
The citizen action group was able to enter the facility through a broken fence next to the landfill’s entrance. The lack of adequate barriers is a violation of local and federal rules. Once inside, the team passed several mountains of covered trash that appeared to be unlined, old trash cells, and headed towards the active cells where trash was being dumped.
“The first mountain of trash we saw contained hundreds of dumped refrigerators and other metallic materials left in the open,” said Hiram Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio, who led the team visit. “This is a very serious violation of federal rules, and indicates there is irregular dumping happening for years at Florida landfill. It makes this landfill a huge breeding ground for disease-bearing mosquitos, and undermines any effort to control Zika and other epidemics.”
Torres Montalvo was recently treated for Zika infection, and denounced the EPA for its failure to use its authority to close non-compliant municipal landfills that are providing breeding grounds for Zika-carrying mosquitos.
The investigative team also found that the pathways throughout the landfill were built over unlined, old trash cells. [Click here for video.]
“The ground along the path to the active cell was very soft, and it was clear we were walking across trash covered by dirt,” Torres Montalvo said. “We saw no leachate controls or extraction equipment for toxic liquids anywhere on the site, and the smell of methane gas was very strong and escaping from the ground we were walking on.”
“We were shocked by the blatant illegality and toxicity of the site before we even approached the active trash cells,” Torres Montalvo said. “But then we got to the top of the hill, and it was clear that new trash is being dumped into open ground without liners or other controls. It was a completely illegal operation, violating every basic federal rule that EPA is responsible for enforcing.”
The investigative team also documented that digging is taking place in an unused area next to the active trash cell, which appears to indicate plans to expand the dumping to a new, illegal cell that is not being equipped with any federally required controls against contamination or production of explosive gases.
“They are going to keep expanding this open dump,” Torres Montalvo said. “They are clearly not closing any time soon, but expanding operations. This is what happens when no one enforces the law. The illegal acts simply multiply.”
The Florida landfill is located next to the MLB Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, which includes a baseball stadium, a recreational park with a jogging trail, playgrounds for children and an artificial lake. Puerto Rico Limpio conducted an investigation of the history of EPA’s lack of enforcement against the landfill since the agency first declared in 2007 that it posed a “potential threat” caused by “longtime poor management”.
The Florida landfill is one of several non-compliant sites in Puerto Rico that the citizen action group has documented as being under multiple “closure orders” by the EPA that were never enforced. Torres Montalvo called upon the newly-appointed director for the EPA’s Caribbean office, Carmen Guerrero, to visit Puerto Rico’s non-compliant landfills with Puerto Rico Limpio and explain why the agency is not enforcing the law.
“Carmen Guerrero should come to Florida, to Toa Alta, to Vega Baja, to all these toxic sites and explain why these communities don’t deserve the federal protection that municipalities in New York or Florida or anywhere on the mainland receive,” Torres Montalvo said.