Decades of EPA non-enforcement of federal rules created breeding grounds for mosquitos in every region of Puerto Rico
The EPA could correct this through immediate closures
(SAN JUAN) The Zika epidemic has rapidly expanded in Puerto Rico, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still refuses to close non-compliant landfills that are breeding grounds for mosquitos that could spread the disease. This makes the federal agency partly responsible for the rapid growth of the epidemic, said a citizen action group.
The Puerto Rico Department of Health announced on Friday that the total number of cases of Zika in Puerto Rico has exploded to over 7,296, with more than 1,700 reported over the course of one week in July. Despite a citizens’ campaign for several months demanding EPA close municipal landfills that have not complied with federal laws for over a decade, the agency has refused to take action even at sites where illegal dumping is creating perfect conditions for mosquitos to breed in the center of populated areas.
“The EPA knows there are millions of mosquitos breeding in these non-compliant landfills, and they have the authority to close them but they refuse to do it,” said Hiram Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio. “I can’t understand why the EPA isn’t enforcing its own laws when so many lives are in imminent danger here. It’s a humanitarian disaster made worse by federal neglect.”
Puerto Rico Limpio has investigated non-compliant landfills across the island in 2016, and documented several cases where these municipal facilities are allowing illegal dumping of large items like refrigerators, furniture, tires and other objects that collect water and are prohibited by EPA rules. It has also documented uncontrolled leachates that in some cases form ponds or lakes at landfills, in violation of federal rules. In cases where EPA has issued warni
ngs or closures of the worst sites, they have been mostly ignored and the sites continue accepting tons of prohibited or unsorted trash today.
During the investigations in June, Torres Montalvo was diagnosed with Zika infection.
“I can’t be sure I was infected at a landfill, but I saw breeding conditions at most of the sites and there were a lot of mosquitos,” he said. “Next to the Toa Baja landfill, there is a man-made lake where leachates were visibly running from the trash pile into the water and it was very close to a residential neighborhood. A resident who lived on the edge of the lake told me the landfill has been allowed to expand right up to his street and at night the mosquitos are so bad that people cannot go out of the house.”
“We inspected the landfills at Florida and Isabela in just the last 30 days when the biggest increase in Zika cases were reported,” Torres Montalvo said. “We documented tons of prohibited items dumped all over these landfills, collecting water and creating perfect breeding conditions for mosquitos. These conditions have existed for more than a decade at most of the landfills in Puerto Rico and the EPA hasn’t closed them. The agency issues warnings and closure orders that it never enforces. Florida and Isabela, like many other landfills, were issued closure orders by the EPA that were never enforced. Trucks are going in and out of these landfills right this moment.”
“We have documented the lack of federally-required controls on leachate liquids collecting in and around the landfills at Toa Alta, Arroyo, Barranquitas, Moca, Vega Baja, Anasco, Florida, Yauco and Lajas, among others, and we denounced them after the public health emergency was declared on Zika in February,” Torres Montalvo added. “Neither the governor nor the EPA has closed one single non-compliant landfill this year while Zika has grown out of control.”
“How much worse does Zika have to get before EPA enforces the landfill rules and closes the breeding grounds in our non-compliant landfills?” Torres Montalvo asked.