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Virgin Islands Halts Illegal Sewage Discharge on St. Croix; Federal Judge Orders Upgrades

Release Date: 03/22/2010
Contact Information: (News Media Only) John Senn (212) 637-3667, senn.john@epa.gov or Jose Font (787) 977-5815, font.jose@epa.gov

(San Juan, P.R.) Acting on a motion from the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Chief District Judge Curtis V. Gomez last week ordered that a pump at the Figtree Pump Station on St. Croix remain operational and that additional pumps be installed at the station after equipment failure there led to the illegal discharge of millions of gallons of raw sewage over a two month period. The Justice Department, acting on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), filed an emergency motion on March 11 to have the discharges from the Figtree Station stopped. This followed an EPA order on March 2 requiring the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority to stop discharges from the Figtree and LBJ pump stations. The discharge from LBJ, which was pumped over Long Reef north of St. Croix, had been stopped on February 26, and the Figtree discharge was stopped on March 17 when a pump was moved from the LBJ station to the Figtree station. Contact with polluted water, usually during swimming, can cause infections and illnesses, especially among children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

“The continued discharge of raw sewage from a pump station in St. Croix was simply not acceptable,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “Discharges of raw sewage are a potential threat to public health, and are destructive to the incredible natural resources, such as coral reefs on which much of the Virgin Islands’ people and its economy depend.”

Equipment failure at the Figtree Pump Station on St. Croix led to a daily discharge of 300,000 to more than 1 million gallons of raw sewage from January 17 to March 17 into Cane Garden Bay or over Long Reef, both of which feed into the Caribbean Sea. The LBJ Pump Station was by-passed to reduce the raw sewage flowing to the Figtree Pump Station. Under normal operating conditions, sewage passes through the LBJ Pump Station, goes to the Figtree Pump Station, and then flows to the Anguilla Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Under Judge Gomez’s order, the Waste Management Authority must install a second house pump at the Figtree station by tomorrow, make sure St. Croix has two functioning auxiliary pumps by Friday, certify that two pumps at the Cancryn Pump Station are operational and comply with public notification requirements regarding sewage discharges.

Initially, the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources took action to stop the discharges by issuing a Notice of Violation to the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority. When the authority failed to correct the problems, EPA issued the order directing the Waste Management Authority to immediately stop the discharges. EPA’s order also required the Waste Management Authority to implement measures to prevent equipment failures. The discharge of raw sewage is regulated by EPA under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, a component of the federal Clean Water Act.

“Measures sufficient to prevent the failure of equipment and contingency plans for quickly addressing damaged equipment did not exist or utterly failed in these incidents,” Enck added. “We expect the Virgin Islands to have plans in place to prevent these types of discharges from happening in the future.”

For more information on how EPA regulates the disposal of sewage, visit http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/home.cfm?program_id=5. For more information on EPA’s work in the U.S. Virgin Islands, visit http://epa.gov/region2/cepd/vilink.htm.

Follow EPA Region 2 on Twitter at http://twitter.com/eparegion2 and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/eparegion2.

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