In my days as a news reporter, there were countless stories I covered in which I had a front-row view to some type of devastating tragedy. I’ve been a witness to house fires, car crashes, accidental drownings, and gas leak explosions. In so many of those cases, I was overcome with feelings of helplessness. The feelings came from the sheer magnitude of each situation. Being able to process what was happening appeared to be impossible.
Those past emotions have been stirred up recently by events in Puerto Rico. The NPR website headline reads, “After Maria, Puerto Rico Struggles Under the Weight of Its Own Garbage,” and the article is about the extreme situation in which the island finds itself trying to deal with the waste created by Hurricane Maria.
“Puerto Rico’s Solid Waste Authority estimates that the powerful hurricane created 6.2 million cubic yards of waste and debris. That’s enough trash to fill about 43 football stadiums with piles of waste eight stories high, according to a measure used by FEMA.”
A soccer field in a suburban neighborhood has been turned into a crude, makeshift transfer station where a three-story-high mountain of waste continues to grow. Debris and waste are being dumped there and only when the pile starts to overflow the stadium do other trucks start hauling loads to the landfill.
And the status of their landfill system has been in question long before Maria.
The NPR article says:
“In 2008, the EPA ordered the Toa Baja landfill to close by 2014 because it posed an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment.” The agency said environmental inspectors found evidence that the landfill did not have a system to control liquid seeping through the garbage pile and into the ground. The agency found that this substance, called leachate, could potentially contaminate a nearby aquifer and wetlands.
In 2012, the EPA permitted the landfill to delay the closure for an unspecified amount of time. It was also allowed to create a smaller area incorporating more environmental precautions—such as a lining to prevent seepage—and begin accepting waste there.
The problems are much the same across the lush tropical island of Puerto Rico. The EPA got directly involved in the island’s landfills in 2002, and has since ordered at least 12 of the approximately 29 landfills to close, which can be a years-long process.”