In March and October of 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued what the media has described as “closure orders” to the landfills that have proven to be too dangerous to remain open. This has happened many times over the years, and many of the same landfills are still under the same closure orders now. The local authorities in Puerto Rico have also issued “closure orders” on toxic landfills. But the reality is that none of these landfills are truly being closed!
What happens is that the order is sent, the landfill is informed, and then the landfill, the municipality, the Puerto Rico authorities and the EPA sit down and work out an “agreement.” The agreement states that only part of the landfill – called a “cell” – is closed, and that a new cell is also opened, but managed by the same landfill people that were breaking the rules and threatening our health! The landfill promises to follow the rules with the new cell, of course, and the EPA believes them.
Then you can guess what happens next. The new cell doesn’t follow the rules again, it becomes toxic, all kinds of warnings are sent, promises are made, and eventually a new “closure order” is issued with the same new agreement for a new cell, with new promises to follow the rules. It is a cycle of neglect and non-compliance.
One of the worst examples of this problem is Toa Baja. Puerto Rico Limpio members in Candelaria provided evidence of serious violations at the new “compliant” cell built under an EPA ‘closure order’. In October 2016, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez joined us in visiting Candelaria and exposed the extreme contamination and the brutal conditions that residents must endure. But the EPA continues to insist that the toxic landfill in Toa Baja is “compliant”, even though they admitted they had not inspected the site in over a year.
Because of EPA’s dereliction of duty and total lack of enforcement, Puerto Ricans living next to these landfills face an unending cycle of violations, broken promises and no controls to protect us.
The results are clear: more than 2/3 of the landfills are breaking the rules. Some of them have probably never followed them! And the EPA refuses to use its full authority to enforce federal law the way it is done on the U.S. mainland.
Please click here to read more from Puerto Rico Limpio’s new fact sheet, “EPA’s Failure to Close Puerto Rico Landfills.”