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EPA Says More Landfills in Puerto Rico Must Be Addressed

Release Date: 08/15/2006
Contact Information: Brenda Reyes, (787) 977-5864 or reyes.brenda@epa.gov

(San Juan, P.R.) In its continuing efforts to vigilantly protect the people and environment of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intends to order three municipalities to close current operations at their improperly run landfills, EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg announced here today. EPA inspections have revealed that the Toa Baja, Aguadilla and Santa Isabel landfills do not have required protections and should be closed to minimize any risks they may pose to surrounding communities. Earlier this year, EPA notified the municipalities of Vega Baja and Florida that they must close down current operations at their landfills.

“It is my intention to work hand-in-hand with the municipalities and also the Puerto Rico government to find a solution to the pervasive landfill problem,” said Mr. Steinberg. “But, these landfills are literally oozing contaminants into the soil and ground water and many of them are located in environmentally sensitive karst areas. While it is primarily the responsibility of the Commonwealth to run the municipal solid waste program, EPA felt we needed to step in and get the ball rolling.”

EPA will continue to work closely with the Puerto Rico government on their current version of the island-wide solid waste planning and financing efforts designed to lead to increased recycling and construction of the necessary solid waste infrastructure and elimination of open dumps.

EPA said today that is plans to require the municipalities of Toa Baja, Aguadilla and Santa Isabel to take steps to close current operations at their landfills. The landfills are currently considered open dumps. Some of the landfills do not have liners under portions that have been expanded since 1993 when liners were required. In addition, the municipalities are failing to properly collect and treat liquid seepage from underneath the landfills, called leachate; to properly control run-off from storm water; and to monitor ground water beneath the landfills. In some instances, the landfills are not being properly covered with clean fill on a daily basis and are failing to properly handle methane gases produced during decomposition of materials in the landfills. In some cases, these landfills are situated in karst areas where pollutants can get directly into the ground water.

In May of this year, EPA announced that currently operating waste cells of both the Vega Baja and Florida landfills need to be closed to protect public health. The Agency is currently in talks with those municipalities to lay out the details of how and when the cells will be closed.

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