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Congressman Luis Gutierrez

Representing the 4th District of Illinois

Advocates Decry Puerto Rico's Toxic Landfills

June 16, 2016
In The News

BLOOMBERG BNA: Advocates Decry Puerto Rico's Toxic Landfills

June 16, 2016 08:25PM ET | Bloomberg BNA

Puerto Rico Landfills

Development: Rep. Gutierrez and environmental advocates hold briefing to shed light on toxic municipal landfills in Puerto Rico.

Finding: Roughly 75 percent of island's landfills are noncompliant with environmental statute, advocates say.

What's Next: Advocates urge EPA to crack down on regulatory violations.

June 16 (BNA) -- Roughly 75 percent of municipal landfills in Puerto Rico don't comply with Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requirements, environmental advocates and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) told a briefing June 16 on Capitol Hill.

The environmental advocates said 20 of 27 landfills on the island territory violate RCRA, due in large part to a lack of landfill lining at the sites that serve as leachate protections and prevent toxic soil contamination.

Gutierrez and the advocates, who represented GreenLatinos, an Environmental Protection Agency advisory committee, and Puerto Rico Limpio, laid responsibility on the EPA and Puerto Rican authorities for the failure to rein in the violations.

Puerto Rican municipalities have regularly defied the EPA and local closure orders over recent years, Puerto Rico Limpio co-founder Hiram Torres Montalvo told the briefing.

The toxic landfills also have led to troubling methane emission levels, Torres said.

The neglect that has facilitated the violations represents “environmental racism,” said Michael Dorsey, a Duke University official and member of the EPA's National Advisory Committee.

Gutierrez echoed that notion. “If this were happening in Chicago, I'd be surrounded by other Illinois legislators, from council members, county commissioners, Congress people, the mayor, everybody, because they wouldn't let this potential poisoning occur,” he said.

He added that landfill hazards have similarities to lead contamination of public drinking water in Flint, Mich. “Low-income communities of color are always paying the price when it comes to environmental injustice.”

Torres said Puerto Rico's recycling rate is a mere 7 percent, a stark contrast from the nearly 35 percent rate in the U.S. overall.