Settlement Order Filed in Federal Court will Address Serious Issues at the Toa Alta Landfill in Puerto Rico
NEW YORK – Today, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the filing of an interim settlement order that requires the Municipality of Toa Alta to take a series of immediate actions to address serious issues at its landfill.
The order, which has been approved by a federal judge, reflects the input EPA and DOJ sought from the communities impacted by the landfill during a public meeting on February 23, 2022. The settlement order would require several immediate actions by the Municipality to address urgent human health and environmental concerns at the landfill. Notably, the order would require Toa Alta to stop receiving waste, cover exposed areas of the landfill and put plans into place to manage stormwater and leachate (contaminated liquid flowing from the landfill).
"This settlement order reflects the government’s efforts to engage the communities that have suffered too long due to this poorly run open dump," said Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. "This order, which the Municipality has agreed to, requires the Municipality to take real action to improve landfill conditions immediately. Progress is already being made, and EPA will continue to work with the Department of Justice, the Puerto Rico government, and the Municipality to make sure these improvements are implemented to ensure the protection of public health and that the eventual permanent closure of this landfill is done properly."
More specifically, the order would require the Municipality of Toa Alta to:
- Provide immediate and unimpeded access to the landfill to EPA and Puerto Rico
- Ensure that all areas of exposed waste are covered by daily cover (a term defined in the proposed order).
- Stop all waste disposal at the landfill, with possible exceptions if allowed or required as part of a revised permanent closure plan for the landfill prepared in accordance with Puerto Rico regulations and approved by DNER.
- Install signs in Spanish and English stating the landfill is closed.
- Stabilize the North Slope area by implementing stormwater control and other measures.
- Cover the landfill with “intermediate cover” at the rate of one acre per month period during the first year commencing October 1, 2022, and two acres per month thereafter until the entire Landfill has been covered.
- Develop a leachate management plan by October 1, 2022 and implement it.
- Develop a stormwater management plan by January 1, 2023 and implement it.
The order also includes reporting requirements Toa Alta must follow so that EPA can maintain oversight and keep the community informed of developments at or concerning the landfill.
The Municipality of Toa Alta has been operating its solid waste landfill since 1966. A majority of the landfill does not have a bottom protective liner and therefore is considered to be an "open dump." Regulations require that all open dumps be closed by 1998 and that all landfills be appropriately operated, including daily and intermediate cover, leachate collection, and landfill gas and stormwater controls. In Puerto Rico, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources is directly responsible for requiring compliance with landfill regulations. At the same time, the EPA has separate authorities to address urgent risks to public health and the environment at landfills.
In February 2021, DOJ filed a complaint in the Federal Court against Toa Alta on behalf of EPA, claiming that the conditions at the landfill constitute an "imminent and substantial endangerment." In July 2021, DOJ filed a request that the Federal Court issue an order requiring Toa Alta to address various urgent problems at the landfill immediately. In September 2021, DNER filed an administrative complaint against Toa Alta. Finally, in October 2021, DNER announced a plan to address the "open dumps" in Puerto Rico, including Toa Alta.
From February to March 2022, EPA and DOJ sought public comments from residents to get feedback on potential terms of an interim settlement order before finalizing negotiations with the Municipality. EPA hosted a public meeting in Toa Alta on February 23, 2022, which included representatives of EPA, DNER, DOJ, and the Mayor of Toa Alta.
The Municipality has since informed EPA and DOJ that it has stopped disposing waste at the landfill as of April 2022, and as of June continues to take action to meet the terms of the proposed preliminary injunction order in advance of the official filing of the order with the Court.
Visit the Toa Alta Municipal Landfill web page for additional background.