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EPA Proposes to Fine the Municipality of Cataņo for Raw Sewage Discharges

Release Date: 02/03/2003
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(#03008) San Juan, Puerto Rico -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a $27,500 administrative civil penalty against the municipality of Cataņo for illegally discharging raw sewage from the Puente Blanco Pump Station and Sanitary Collection System into Caņo La Malaria. It is believed that these discharges have been occurring intermittently since November 2000, despite numerous attempts by EPA to get the municipality of Cataņo to stop them.

“Raw sewage discharges pose a direct health risk to the surrounding community, particularly in this case where children swim in these waters,” said Jane M. Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator. “We have tried on many occasions to correct these violations, and we feel we must now impose a penalty.”

Located in one of Cataņo’s most impoverished areas, Caņo La Malaria is highly polluted with fecal coliform due to the raw sewage discharges. In addition to its proximity to people, it is also home to a great diversity of fauna, including turtles, ducks and iguanas.

The raw sewage discharges first came to EPA’s attention in November 2000, when the Agency received a complaint from residents of the Puente Blanco community, located in Cataņo. EPA contacted the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) to take immediate action. PRASA, in conjunction with a crew from the Municipality of Cataņo, unclogged the lines that were causing the sewage overflows.

On December 12, 2000, PRASA submitted a report to EPA detailing the work that it had done on the pump station and the sewage collection system to minimize overflows. In that report, PRASA also stated that the pump station was not one of its facilities and the pump station would not be accepted by PRASA until the Municipality of Cataņo addressed all of the deficiencies found during the PRASA acceptance inspection.

EPA received complaints for the same problem again in December 2000. The Agency contacted the Municipality of Cataņo and in January 2001 EPA ordered the municipality to solve the problem by repairing the pump station and sewage collection system.

In August 2001 EPA received more complaints from Puente Blanco residents. As a result, the Agency inspected the system 3 times. Each time, EPA observed raw sewage overflowing from some of the residential service lines and manholes into the streets, the storm water collection system and the Caņo La Malaria. Feces were also observed flowing from the storm water drain.

On August 9, 2001 EPA ordered the Municipality to comply with EPA’s January 2001 order and required it to submit, within 15 days, a written response describing the actions to be taken to address the deficiencies and violations found. The Municipality did respond to EPA, stating that it was in the process of obtaining estimates for the repairs to the pump station.

In October and November 2002, EPA performed two inspections to the Puente Blanco Pump Station and Sanitary Collection System and confirmed that the municipality of Cataņo was still not in compliance with the ordered provisions contained January 2001 order.