Energy

EXCLUSIVE: Puerto Rico Is Full Of ‘Open Dumps’ Ripe For Spreading Zika, And EPA’s Ignoring Them

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ignored numerous reports that most of Puerto Rico’s landfills are out of compliance with federal law, and some could even become breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus, according to a new report.

“These landfills provide the perfect environment for Zika mosquitoes to reproduce,” Hiram Torres Montalvo, a Puerto Rican attorney and author of a report on the state of the island’s landfills, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Montalvo’s hard-pressed to find a reason why the EPA, which is generally so eager to regulate every other aspect of life, has done nothing to enforce existing laws for Puerto Rico’s landfills.

“There’s no answer as to why they aren’t paying attention,” he said.

Montalvo’s group, Puerto Rico Limpio, put out a report detailing the 20 landfills throughout the island that are out of compliance with federal law.

Montalvo pointed to the Vertedero de Toa Alta landfill in the northern part of the island, which feeds into a man-made lake full of untreated, stagnant water perfect for mosquitoes. Toa Alta also lacks plastic lining to keep landfill waste from leaking into the soil and groundwater, according to Montalvo.

“They don’t follow the basic requirements from EPA,” Montalvo said. “They just take the garbage, dump it in and cover it with dirt.”

Puerto Rico Limpio reports EPA’s Region 2 office has known about the island territory’s landfill issues for years, but has only closed two landfills since 2005. Some 20 out of Puerto Rico’s 27 landfills are out of compliance, the group noted, and the EPA gets a report on the status of the landfills every year.

Limpio’s report comes as thousands of Puerto Ricans are expected to have contracted the Zika virus — a disease that’s been linked to severe birth defects when contracted by pregnant women.

Experts expect up to 270 cases of microcephaly among newborn babies in Puerto Rico as a result of Zika. Microcephaly is one of the birth defects linked to Zika that causes infants to be born with shrunken heads and other health issues.

So far, there have been nearly 11,000 confirmed cases of Zika in Puerto Rico, including 1,035 pregnant women. U.S. health officials have warned pregnant women to take “enhanced precautions” when traveling to Puerto Rico.

Montalvo worries EPA could be contributing to the Zika problem by not bringing landfills into compliance, especially at sites like Toa Alta that include man-made lakes. Water in these lakes is supposed to be treated, but Montalvo says that’s not happening.

In 1994, EPA gave Puerto Rico’s Environmental Quality Board (EQB) local control over bringing its landfills into compliance.

In more than two decades, little progress has been made on the issue and documents obtained by Limpio suggest EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck has made little to no effort to force EQB to fix the landfills.

Limpio obtained EPA reports on Puerto Rican landfills for every year from 2005 to 2014 that repeatedly classify them as being in “significant”, “serious” or “widespread” non-compliance. EPA officials even called them “unlined open dumps,” according to documents obtained by Limpio.

“They just keep ignoring the problems we have here in Puerto Rico. There’s no answer as to why they aren’t paying attention,” Montalvo said.

Montalvo said the privately-owned landfills were less likely to be completely out of compliance with the law, and tended to be run much better than those controlled by local governments. He said landfills run by local officials were “really bad.”

EPA Region 2 did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

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