Landfill operator attempts to cover up contamination hours before U.S. Congressman arrives; Residents outraged, demand EPA action
(CANDELARIA, TOA BAJA, P.R. – October 4, 2016) Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez of Illinois met today with residents affected by contamination from the municipal landfill of Toa Baja, after the landfill operator scrambled to move toxic water and sludge from the area before he arrived.
“The government is failing the people of Candelaria,” Congressman Gutiérrez told reporters after meeting the residents and viewing the landfill. “Think for a moment: if you had to live next to this landfill, would you say the government is protecting you? I think you’d have to say no. We have to tell the federal government to assume the responsibility that it has.”
“If this is not a toxic landfill, then what were they trying to hide this morning?” denounced Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio, who co-organized the visit. “The actions by the landfill operator this morning are an admission of guilt. They can try to move the toxic sludge but they can’t lie to the people of Candelaria. It is time for Gina McCarthy to put an end to the EPA’s dereliction of duty to the people of Puerto Rico.”
Adelaida Gonzalez, the Candelaria resident who hosted the meeting in her home, said: “The smell from the landfill sludge has been unbearable for more than a year. It is almost impossible for us to live here. The mosquitos at night are frightening because of Zika. We don’t know what to do.”
The visit was organized by GreenLatinos and Puerto Rico Limpio with local residents of the Candelaria neighborhood, a low-income area where the Toa Baja landfill was permitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (EPA) to expand directly in front of their homes. Puerto Rico Limpio has made multiple visits to the area where residents told of the intense smell from the landfill and contaminated water collecting in a man-made pond near their homes, as well as uncontrolled mosquito infestation while the Zika epidemic is spreading in Puerto Rico– all serious violations of federal rules and threats to public health.
The EPA allowed Toa Baja to expand into Candelaria, and the new area opened in 2015, but Torres Montalvo told Congressman Gutierrez that the landfill did not follow required practices under federal law and allowed the air, w
ater and soil to be immediately contaminated, according to testimony from local witnesses and evidenced by the toxic sludge the landfill operators spent all morning hauling away. Local residents said that fires have recently broken out around the toxic sludge, in addition to the overwhelming smell, which are indications of uncontrolled methane gas emissions that violate federal laws.
Puerto Rico Limpio and GreenLatinos have demanded the immediate closure by the EPA of all landfills classified as “open dumps” that are an imminent threat to public health and the environment. Puerto Rico Limpio recently released a report, “The Poisoning of Puerto Rico”, which revealed internal EPA documents proving the Agency has known for over a decade that most of Puerto Rico’s landfills are toxic but Regional Administrator Judith Enck has ignored recommendations from her own staff to use her full authority to intervene.
Congressman Gutierrez with the residents of Candelaria, Toa Baja