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EPA Grants Waiver to Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Wastewater Treatment Plant

Release Date: 10/08/2002
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(#02108) San Juan, Puerto Rico – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) today announced that it has granted a waiver to the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA ) for a wastewater treatment plant in Arecibo . The waiver requires PRASA to provide advanced primary treatment of the wastewater that passes through the plant, rather than the more advanced secondary treatment. EPA originally announced its intention to grant the waiver at the Arecibo plant in October 2000, held a public hearing and solicited public comments on the proposal. The agency has evaluated the comments it received, and has now moved forward with its final decision.

“EPA has carefully reviewed the conditions at the Arecibo wastewater treatment plant, and has determined that this action will have no negative effect on the residents and aquatic environment of Puerto Rico,”said EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny . “EPA has been pleased to note that operations at PRASA wastewater treatment plants have improved markedly over the past several years. We are confident that the advanced primary treatment and monitoring standards that will remain in place at Arecibo will continue to protect the people of Puerto Rico and its beautiful shores.”

The Arecibo plant provides advanced primary treatment of incoming sewage before discharging the treated wastewater into the ocean. Basic primary treatment involves screening, grit removal, removing solid matter using gravity, and chlorine disinfection. Advanced primary treatment, which the Arecibo plant provides, involves adding chemicals that increase the amount of solid matter removed. Secondary treatment, which usually occurs right after primary treatment, uses bacteria to break down and remove additional organic matter in the sewage. Under the federal Clean Water Act, ocean-discharging plants like Arecibo’s have the opportunity to apply for waivers from secondary treatment. If certain stringent requirements are met – including compliance with all water quality standards to insure that marine life around the outfall where treated sewage is discharged is not harmed – EPA can grant the waiver. In this case, EPA has granted the waiver after reviewing data that indicates that marine life will not be adversely impacted. EPA also considered the fact that the pipe that carries treated sewage from the plant to the ocean extends 3,769 feet off shore at a depth of 75 feet. At this distance from the shore, the treated wastewater is quickly diluted with seawater, greatly reducing any potential impact it might have on the marine environment. An EPA permit containing the waiver will take effect on November 1, 2002.

In addition to granting a final waiver for the Arecibo plant, EPA has granted waivers to the Puerto Nuevo and Bayamon plants, which share an outfall to the ocean, and to the Carolina plant. EPA denied requests for waivers from secondary treatment for the Mayaguez and Barceloneta plants, and PRASA withdrew waiver requests for the Fajardo, Humacao, Guayama, Guayanilla and Dorado wastewater treatment plants. EPA is still considering whether to grant waivers to the Aguadilla and Ponce wastewater treatment plants.