After years of methane fires, dumping of toxic and hazardous materials and general mismanagement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that the Bovoni landfill could endanger the health of St. Thomas residents and the local environment.
And that has Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg asking, "What took so long?"
Because of the threat to human health and the environment, the EPA negotiated a proposed order with the V.I. government to clean up the landfill. According to the EPAs Nina Habib-Spencer, the order was issued with the consent of the local government and is one step short of the agency taking unilateral action to force compliance.
A public meeting to discuss the order will be held from 7 to 9 p.m Wednesday, April 12, at the Curriculum Center in Tutu. EPA representatives will be there to explain the order and to answer any questions, Habib-Spencer said.
Past inspections of Bovoni and three new EPA inspections in August 1999 revealed:
— The disposal of hundreds of lead-acid vehicle and marine batteries, some of which leaked electrolyte fluid containing lead and sulfuric acid onto the soil.
— The improper storage of 250 55-gallon drums of used oil, some of which also released their contents onto the soil.
— Overflowing waste oil coming from a damaged waste oil-collection igloo.
— Several underground fires that occurred because methane from decaying solid waste was not adequately vented.
— The contamination of the adjacent Mangrove Lagoon with leachate from the landfill.
After the public has commented on the proposed order and any necessary changes are made, Public Works must clean up the problems and take steps to ensure that hazardous waste is no longer delivered to the landfill, Habib-Spencer said.
"Landfills like Bovoni that are designed only to handle household solid waste must never be used for the dumping of commercial hazardous waste or used oil because of the real potential for soil and groundwater contamination," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA regional administrator. "The situations we observed must be addressed as soon as possible, and we expect that once the necessary work is done, the government will not let the landfill revert back to its previous condition."
Donastorg, however, said the problems at the landfill date back years. And while he supports the EPA, he said this move should have been made long ago.
"I am extremely pleased that EPA is taking this action," he said. "I have been asking them to intervene for quite some time. The steps to be taken appear to be lifted almost word for word from suggestions that I have made to Public Works over the years."
Donastorg is chairman of the Senates Committee on Planning and Environmental Protection.
"The problem is that DPW officials have promised to do these things over and over again and little or no action is taken," he went on. "My question for EPA is what will happen if DPW doesnt follow through? Who will be penalized and what will the penalties be? At this point someone needs to be held personally responsible."
Habib-Spencer agreed with Donastorgs assessment of Public Works track record when it comes to operating the territorys landfills. The order contains provisions for funding and a timeline for work to be completed, she said, but she stopped short of saying what EPA would do if Public Works failed to uphold its end of the deal.
"We are going to keep the government to this time frame," Habib-Spencer said. "We are aware of the financial problems existing in the Virgin Islands. Thats why we requested to know where those monies are going to come from."
In June 1999, Public Works committed to perform some of the work required in EPAs current order when it submitted a plan to the agency for how it would spend $1 million it received from Hovensa following the companys settlement of criminal violations at the Hovensa oil refinery on St. Croix. Any work in the current order not performed using funds from the Hovensa settlement will be conducted by the government with other funds, Habib-Spencer said.
The steps may include:
— Conducting random inspections of incoming waste loads, including loads coming from the Susannaberg Transfer Station on St. John, to ensure that hazardous waste is not mixed in with solid waste.
— Training landfill personnel and posting lists of prohibited items throughout the facility.
— Covering the operating face of the landfill with at least 6 inches of earth at the end of each operating day to control insect and animal infestations, scavenging by people and birds.
— Within 30 days submit to EPA a financial plan for carrying out the order, including the estimated cost of all work to be done and how the government will pay for it.
— Within 60 days ship all used oil being stored at Bovoni to an authorized used oil-recycling facility.
— Fully secure the landfill by installing wire mesh fencing at least 10 feet high, and repair all holes in the existing fencing. The new fencing will include an entrance gate that will be locked when the landfill is not operating.
— Within 90 days ship all lead-acid batteries and battery parts at Bovoni to an authorized recycling facility.
— Submit a plan to EPA to remove and remediate contaminated soil around buried lead-acid batteries. The plan must include an identification of all areas where batteries are believed to be buried, the excavation of all batteries and contaminated soil and their proper disposal. Once EPA reviews and approves the plan, it will be implemented by the Virgin Islands according to a set timetable.
— Submit a plan to EPA to remediate spilled used oil at Bovoni, which will be similar to the disposal plan for the batteries.
— Submit a plan to EPA to investigate subsurface fires at the landfill. Once EPA has had an opportunity to comment on the plan, the Virgin Islands will begin its investigation. If it is found that fires are burning at Bovoni, the government will within 60 days adopt a plan for putting out the fires.
— Within 120 days submit a plan to EPA to bring the Bovoni landfill into compliance with all federal landfill regulations, including measures for monitoring groundwater and collecting leachate and a timetable for doing the work. The plan will be subject to EPA comment.
— Within 180 days submit to EPA a written plan for the future management of lead-acid batteries and used oil at Bovoni. The plan will include prohibiting the disposal of non-household lead-acid batteries in the landfill and will indicate an alternate location for their disposal.
"We are pleased that the Virgin Islands has agreed to make some very necessary improvements to the Bovoni landfill, and have every expectation that the government will stick to the schedule we have agreed upon," said the EPAs Fox.
Donastorg, meanwhile, said the clean-up schedule was adequate.
"I am in total agreement with EPAs suggested timetable," he said. "If anything, its too generous. I think EPA has been overly patient with DPW. I will be keeping an eye on both DPW and EPA to see that they follow through."
The public may examine the proposed order and background documents at either the EPA office in the Federal Building or at the St. Thomas public library, both in Charlotte Amalie.
Written comments will be accepted by the EPA until May 1. EPA will evaluate all comments and modify the order if necessary. Comments must be postmarked by May 1, 2000, and may be mailed or faxed to: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Phillip Flax, Presiding Officer, RCRA Compliance Branch, 290 Broadway, 22nd Floor, New York, NY 10007-1866; Phone (212) 637-4143; Fax (212) 637-4949.