Required actions include repair, cover of exposed areas and inspections
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered the municipality of Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, along with current and past operators of the Toa Alta Municipal Solid Waste Landfill, to take immediate actions to address conditions at the landfill that may present potential threats to human health and the environment. Under the order, the landfill’s owner, the municipality of Toa Alta, and its operators will be required to:
• Repair leachate collection systems;
• Cover exposed areas of the landfill on a daily basis to control odors and blowing debris;
• Cover inactive areas of the landfills; and
• Inspect incoming loads of waste to separate out hazardous wastes and prohibited materials.
One of the most serious problems to addressed is the landfill’s leachate collection system, which is not functioning. Leachate is a liquid that has percolated through or been generated by decomposition of waste material. The Toa Alta Landfill sits on top of Puerto Rico’s north coast limestone aquifer system, which is a potential source of drinking water. The landfill is adjacent to a number of homes of Toa Alta residents.
The order also requires the municipality and current operator to better manage stormwater, institute mosquito control measures, and, improve landfill security. Because the landfill has reached capacity, the order also directs the municipality to permanently stop disposing of waste at the landfill by December 31.
“The violations at this landfill may present an imminent threat to the community, so the EPA is using its authority to require immediate actions to address these problems to protect the community and the drinking water aquifer,” said Catherine McCabe, EPA acting regional administrator. “Throughout Puerto Rico, EPA has been taking similar actions at landfills where we have authority to do so, while working with the government of Puerto Rico to make improvements to its overall solid waste management program.”
This order comes after the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (EQB) cited the municipality for various violations of environmental regulations in recent years, and yet operations at the landfill continued to deteriorate. The EQB has primary responsibility for regulating solid waste landfills in the commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
The Toa Alta landfill has been receiving waste since 1966. During this period, the landfill has been owned by the municipality of Toa Alta and has been operated by a number of entities, including the municipality of Toa Alta, Empresas Municipales Toalteña Corp., CMA Environmental LLC, and Landfill Technologies of Toa Alta. The municipality and Empresas Municipales Toalteña Corp. have been the landfill’s primary operators since 2016.
Since 2007, the EPA has reached agreements with 12 municipalities and other owners and operators of landfills in Puerto Rico to improve landfill operations and to put them on schedules for closure. The EPA is continuing to assess landfills throughout Puerto Rico and to develop legal agreements where it has the authority.