There are 27 landfills to serve 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico today. Most of them are in violation of federal environmental safety rules, and most of them have NEVER complied with the law.
This is not a problem that began recently. For more than two decades, the landfills of Puerto Rico have been dangerous and toxic, and have been allowed to operate in violation of environmental rules. Exactly 10 years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted that “because Puerto Rico’s landfills do not employ the necessary pollution controls, they pose a serious threat to the environment and to the public health.” But here we are 10 years later, and more than 2/3 of the landfills are still violating the rules.
Why are they dangerous?
- When landfills don’t follow the rules, they create toxic conditions.
- When garbage decomposes, it mixes with rainwater to create a toxic liquid called “leachate”. That liquid runs into our soil, our ground water, and even runs out of the trash pile and into our rivers and neighborhood roads!
- The trash pile creates toxic gasses. One gas is called “methane” – it can explode and burn if it isn’t properly handled. Methane is also toxic for us to breathe and it causes terrible smells in the local area!
- Many non-compliant landfills catch fire and the smoke blows into our neighborhoods, with chemical pollutants in the air with it.
- Very often, toxic substances like gasoline or oil can be thrown into household trash and taken to the landfills. And because the landfills are violating the rules for handling the trash when it arrives, those toxic substances can run into the ground without any controls! The rules these landfills are violating are set up to protect us from that, but the landfills aren’t following them.
- Non-compliant landfills attract flies and vermin, like rats, which then move out into our neighborhoods and our houses, schools and businesses.
- Non-compliant landfills don’t have effective barriers to secure them, so anyone can walk in and out dumping unregulated materials that can be very poisonous and dangerous to our families. If there isn’t a fence, there is no oversight of what is being dumped near our communities.
- Inadequate barriers around landfills allow people to dump furniture and refrigerators and other big items that shouldn’t be at the landfills, and this allows water to collect in them. This provides a perfect breeding place for disease-bearing mosquitos right near our communities, which could start to bring Zika, dengue and other deadly diseases into our homes and schools!