We call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fulfill its mandate in protecting public health in our communities and immediately close Puerto Rico’s most toxic and dangerous municipal landfills.
People of color deserve equal protection from environmental and health hazards that are provided for by our environmental laws. For over 20 years, the government of Puerto Rico has been delegated the enforcement authority to regulate Puerto Rico’s municipal landfills. Over all this time, nearly all of these landfills have been in serious violation of basic environmental protection laws. This is by definition an environmental injustice. EPA has documented that more than two-thirds of Puerto Rico’s 27 landfills are not in compliance with federal and local environmental rules. Shutting down these landfills and building properly compliant landfills is the answer to fixing this problem.
Nearly all these toxic landfills lack legally required controls on toxic liquids produced in landfills, known as “leachates”, which has allowed toxins to run into community soil and groundwater for decades. Many of these toxic sites have the potential of polluting drinking water sources on the island; several of the landfills in violation are located on top of the largest aquifer in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico government and the EPA have repeatedly documented the lack of controls on toxins at these sites and yet the landfills have been allowed to continue operating, continue accepting trash and solid waste, and continue poisoning communities. Most of the sites are also not properly covered, and have never had systems to monitor methane gas accumulation as required by law. With so many dangerous sites in so many communities in Puerto Rico for decades, the scale of this crisis places Puerto Rico at risk of being another public health emergency.
The EPA knows the sites are dangerous and has yet to force their closure, potentially putting underrepresented communities in direct harm for generations. The harm faced by the families living near Puerto Rico’s landfills, in a U.S. territory facing an unprecedented economic and fiscal crisis, is an intolerable form of environmental injustice that cannot stand.
We call upon the EPA to take immediate action, correct this injustice, protect the people of Puerto Rico, and close toxic municipal landfills that have been in violation of the law for years.