EPA documents expose negligence regarding Puerto Rico’s dump crisis
SAN JUAN— Environmental organization Puerto Rico Limpio (Clean Puerto Rico) denounced that internal documents from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reveal that the institution had known for more than 20 years that the island’s municipal junkyards “present an imminent threat to human health and the environment,” but never disclosed them.
The findings, which are part of a six-month investigation published Tuesday by the citizen action group, emerge from documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which may be consulted exclusively on the report “El Envenenamiento de Puerto Rico” (“The Poisoning of Puerto Rico”).
In it the EPA is accused of taking minimal action, despite documenting for more than a decade what it calls repeated, severe violations against federal safety norms regarding the island’s dumps.
“In addition, [the EPA] has allowed the island’s municipal junkyards to continue operating as ‘opencast dumps,’ which contaminate soil, water and air in violation of federal law,” the group said.
Hiram Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio, affirmed that “the EPA ignored for years the internal warnings about the imminent threat that the junkyards represent to the public, which demonstrates the systematic deficiencies from EPA’s part in applying the law and protecting Puerto Ricans against toxic dumps.”
The report mentions the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board’s (JCA by its Spanish initials) 1994 request to be granted the authority of local application, which was approved by the EPA, and in which a compliance plan was presented but never executed.
Puerto Rico Limpio pointed out that the EPA has internal memos dating from 2005 to 2014 that show how its personnel “meticulously documented” the fact that the “majority” of the island’s junkyards have represented serious health and environmental hazards.
Moreover, it indicates that “the JCA failed and proved to be inefficient in its duty to withhold federal law year after year.” The organization adds that “no improvement from the JCA” is suggested, and that the EPA has taken very little action in ensuring the environmental board applies the norms on a local scale.
Puerto Rico’s junkyards “present an imminent threat
to human health and the environment”
Torres Montalvo emphasized that “we knew there were problems, but the documents clearly reveal that the JCA has been an utter failure, and it even broke the law. The JCA never executed its compliance plan, illegally diminished junkyard norm standards, and forced neighboring communities to cope with contamination for decades.”
“It’s hard to see how the phrase ‘imminent and substantial threat’ is repeated over and over in these documents, while the EPA wasn’t doing anything practical about it,” he said.
Michael K. Dorsey, an advisory member from the EPA’s National Advisory Committee who has visited illegal dumps in Puerto Rico, stated that “these contradictory declarations raise serious doubts about EPA’s efficiency in leadership and supervision, and it may very well indicate criminal negligence.”
In his view, “this report by Puerto Rico Limpio accounts for nearly a generation of ‘looking to the other side’ from both the EPA and its island’s counterpart, the JCA. The results are disturbing. The warnings and suggestions made by the people in charge of enforcing the rules are normally ignored or discredited.”