A Puerto Rico Crisis the EPA Can Easily Resolve

Today, Peter Lopez, the new regional administrator for Region 2 of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will testify before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to address concerns on the safety and reliability of potable drinking water following Hurricanes Maria and Irma. This is not a new problem to Puerto Rico.  This has been more than two decades in the making.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), close to 70% of the Island’s drinking water comes from sources that are contaminated and in violation of federal law.  One of the key reasons for this is toxic dirty landfills that are out of compliance and remain open despite federal orders to close.

Congress recently earmarked $2 billion in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to help Puerto Rico rebuild after the storm – up to $160 million of which can be used to close these toxic landfills.

“We call upon Mr. Lopez to use his full authority under the law to immediately close the non-compliant toxic landfills that are polluting Puerto Rico and contaminating our drinking water,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio.  “The EPA should approve the use of the Community Development Block Grants authorized in the 2018 Budget Agreement to close these landfills; not to keep them open so they can keep polluting and poisoning our communities.”

Over 65% of Puerto Rico’s landfills are non-compliant. The EPA has documented widespread violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) – which sets the laws and rules for landfills – including discharging leachate into rivers, protected wetlands and sinkholes over aquifers.  Take, for example, the landfill in Vega Baja, sitting directly atop the Karst Aquifer. A report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2011 cited the Vega Baja landfill as being contaminated with “chlorinated solvents, including: TCE, Dichloroethane, Chloroform, Carbon tetrachloride, tetrachloroethene, tetrachloroethane, and dichloroethane, and methylene chloride.”

The time for closure is now.  Unfortunately, the Obama Administration turned a blind eye to this crisis.  The Trump Administration can change this.

To learn more about Puerto Rico Limpio, its mission and important information about dangerous, non-compliant landfills, go to: PuertoRicoLimpio.org, Puerto Rico Limpio on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter: @PRLimpioOrg.