HOW THE EPA CONTINUES TO POISON PUERTO RICO

Unenforced Orders, Worthless Consent Decrees and No Fines for Lawbreakers 

(SAN JUAN, P.R. – April 27, 2017) Puerto Rico Limpio released a new report today after a painstaking investigation of EPA documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which belie the Agency’s public claims of great progress towards closing 12 toxic, non-compliant municipal landfills in Puerto Rico. The report reveals that, in fact, the EPA has known that 19 out of the island’s 29 landfills are illegal open dumps, and continue to operate despite openly violating federal law.

“The report reveals yet more evidence of criminal neglect by the EPA,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio. “Recent actions in Toa Alta and Santa Isabel are simply an elaborate cover-up by the EPA to hide 8 years of bureaucratic ineptness and criminal negligence.”

The new report, entitled “How the EPA Continues to Poison Puerto Rico”, had a number of key findings based on EPA documents and other evidence posted online with the report today:

  • No evidence was found that any of the still-open landfills “facing action” or consent decrees have been brought into compliance over the last decade.  In fact, all of them continue to break federal laws and continue to pose an imminent threat to the environment and to the public.
  • A letter in 2011 from the Obama Administration to the EQB under Governor Luis Fortuño warned against being too hasty in closing toxic landfills, making lighter enforcement a policy of the EPA.
  • In the list of 12 landfills “under EPA action,” the EPA was found to have systematically failed to follow through, letting deadlines pass repeatedly, allowing operators to ignore benchmarks and endlessly postpone even minimal improvements.
  • The EPA knew of the environmental harm and persistent threat for years even while issuing consent decrees and administrative orders, and never immediately suspended operations at any landfill despite the danger. The most recent example was the administrative order issued against Toa Alta landfill on April 11 of this year, which detailed extreme violations of RCRA and multiple iterations of the “imminent endangerment to human health and the environment” but allowed the landfill to continue receiving and dumping waste in unlined cells through the end of the year.

“Recent comments by certain individuals claiming they do not have the regulatory authority to close, that a lock won’t work, a transfer station cannot be built or the fiscal situation prevents closure, is simply perpetuating an environmental crime against their fellow citizens,” said Torres Montalvo.

To read “How the EPA Continues to Poison Puerto Rico”, visit: http://puertoricolimpio.org/how-the-epa-continues-to-poison-puerto-rico/?lang=en

U.S. CONGRESSMAN DEMANDS EPA PLAN ON TOXIC PUERTO RICO LANDFILLS

Current system in Puerto Rico is “broken” and EPA “has the obligation to step in to protect the public interest”

(WASHINGTON, D.C. – June 20, 2016) A U.S. Congressman has written to the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, to request a plan from that agency on addressing the toxic municipal landfills in Puerto Rico, according to a copy obtained by Puerto Rico Limpio.

Congressman Dennis Ross, a Republican from the State of Florida, wrote to McCarthy on May 26 to express “concern about the failure of the EPA to exercise its statutory authority” over the municipal landfills of Puerto Rico. “Lax regulatory oversight by the Puerto Rican authorities, delegated regulatory authority by the EPA, has resulted in a failed system of solid waste management,” Ross wrote.

Ross noted that most of Puerto Rico’s municipal landfills “are characterized as ‘open dumps’ and are non-compliant with federal minimum standards. Many of these facilities have been non-compliant since the federal government first implemented federal standards in 1991.”

“Reports indicate non-compliant landfill facilities are left open and exposed to carrion that could help carry disease or breed mosquitos capable of transmitting the Zika virus,” Ross noted in his letter, adding that “other facilities have been reported to have been leaching toxic runoff, or catching fire as a result of methane gas emissions.”

“The current system of safety management of municipal solid waste landfills in Puerto Rico is broken, and the EPA has the right and obligation to step in to protect the public interest.”
In the letter, Ross reminded Administrator McCarthy that “the EPA has full and plenary authority” under current laws “to take legal or administrative actions necessary to address conditions at landfills posing ‘imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.’” But Ross stated that “the EPA has made only limited improvements.”

The inaction in the face of the toxic landfill crisis “should not continue,” the Congressman wrote. “I believe the EPA should critically evaluate the safety of Puerto Rico’s non-compliant landfills and take decisive action to ensure they cannot continue to operate in this status. I respectfully request you provide me with a plan as to how the EPA intends to address the safety of Puerto Rico’s landfills,” Congressman Ross concluded.

Hiram Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio, expressed thanks to Congressman Ross for his action. Torres Montalvo was in Washington, D.C., last week to attend a Congressional briefing sponsored by GreenLatinos on the Puerto Rico landfill crisis.

“I met with supportive Members of Congress and staff members during my visit to the Congress yesterday in Washington,” Torres Montalvo said. “I was very encouraged to learn of Congressman Ross’ letter to Administrator McCarthy, and the supportive statement from Congressman Luis Gutierrez at our briefing in Washington last week. This is just a beginning for us, we will continue to make our case and find more allies in holding the EPA accountable for its inaction on Puerto Rico’s landfill crisis, and the cycle of injustice it has created for the communities that are affected.”

To see a copy of Congressman Ross’ letter, click here.

“WE NEED ACTION, NOT TALK ON TOXIC LANDFILLS”

Why bother complying when there is no enforcement of the law?
Puerto Rico Limpio responds to Puerto Rico Government

(SAN JUAN – June 13, 2016)  In response to statements by the Government of Puerto Rico, the citizen action group Puerto Rico Limpio said that only full enforcement of federal and local laws will solve the toxic landfill crisis in Puerto Rico.

“Focusing on recycling has failed Puerto Rican communities.  The results are terrible. Our recycling rates are less than 10%,” said Hiram Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio.  “There is a simple reason for this failure: why recycle when a municipality can dump all their trash in a cheap, non-compliant landfill for half the cost or less?  The landfills have no incentive to participate.   And when the EPA rules are not enforced, it makes no sense to comply.”

Nelson Santiago, the chief solid waste official for the Government of Puerto Rico, was quoted in today’s El Nuevo Dia as saying that following the law “is a big challenge for the operators” of the toxic landfills and suggesting that the public is to blame for producing trash.

“The law is clear: every landfill must have liners, trash covers, and leachate controls or it’s an illegal site.  This can’t be any simpler,” Torres Montalvo said.  “Most of the 27 landfills in Puerto Rico have none of these requirements and nobody is doing anything about it.  If the mayors don’t care about the law, and the Puerto Rico government doesn’t care about the law, and Judith Enck, the Administrator for Region 2 of the EPA doesn’t want to enforce the law, then where is this big challenge for the landfill operators?  If there are no consequences for decades of contaminating the groundwater, the ocean, marine resources, the land and the air, then how can you blame the victims in these communities instead of all the agencies who refuse to do their job and enforce the law?”

Torres Montalvo said the only focus for solving the landfill crisis is real enforcement or the contamination will only worsen.

“After decades of contamination allowed by the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board and the EPA, it’s clear that the policy of doing nothing has created this crisis, not a lack of recycling.  Our landfills still have no liners, no leachate controls, no gas monitoring and no trash covers.  They are illegal sites that violate local and federal laws.  The ADS response and EPA’s complicit behavior is an attempt to distract and confuse the public from their own failures to safeguard our communities,” Torres Montalvo said.

“Judith Enck has another Flint developing in her region.  When is she going to act?” Torres Montalvo concluded.

Links to case studies of toxic landfills that the EPA has allowed to break the law for decades:

TOA ALTA            VEGA BAJA          CULEBRA             ARROYO              BARRANQUITAS                FLORIDA

 

LETTER FROM FLORIDA

The residential community of Alturas de Yanes is directly below the active cell of the Municipal Landfill of Florida, along Calle Arizmendi (PR-642).  It is overlooking the Area Recreativa Jannette Gonzáles, which includes Estadio Rafael Marrero, a lake, and the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy across the street.  A school is located less than 500 feet from the landfill entrance.

The landfill is in a Karst region, which means the ground deep below it holds caves, natural tunnels and waterways which flow through Puerto Rico’s most important aquifer.  But the Florida landfill has no liner or leachate controls.  This means that the cells in the landfill are contaminating the groundwater and soil.

We researched the history of Florida landfill’s violations of key regulations designed to prevent harm to the community.  It gave the impression that the contamination has been going on for a long time.  In 2007, it was ordered closed by the EPA “no later than 2010” after “unsuccessful attempts to speak with the operator”, citing the “potential threat” caused by “longtime poor management.”  In 2009, it was reported that the landfill had to close by December 31 of that year under EPA orders, and the lack of controls over leachates which posed a direct threat to underground water systems was specifically cited.

But the Florida landfill was not closed.

In January 2014, a fire “of unknown origin” broke out at Florida landfill, taking three hours to bring under control.  In April 2015, it was reported that Florida was still under an EPA closure order to be carried out by June 2015.  In September 2015, however, Florida was still open, and operating under an EPA closure order.  Finally, in March 2016, the EPA announced the landfill was scheduled to close in June 2016.

We will continue to monitor the closure of this landfill.  Considering it has posed a threat to the residents of Alturas de Yanes and to the environment of this region for almost a decade, every garbage truck that enters its gate is another step away from stopping it.