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Feds sue V.I. over landfills

By CONSTANCE COOPER, reporter, Daily News Staff
Published: July 16, 2010

ST. THOMAS — The federal government has filed a lawsuit against the V.I. Waste Management Authority and the Virgin Islands government that could cost the territory hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for their failure to bring the territory’s landfills up to Environmental Protection Agency standards.

“As a responsible community, we’re finding that if you don’t do enough to comply with regulations in the beginning, you end up paying for the compliance in the end,” Waste Management Authority Director May Adams Cornwall said in an interview. “I would have hoped that we could have done that, not because we had been ordered to do that, but because it was the right thing to do.”

Cornwall said that St. Thomas’ Bovoni landfill, which has been in use since 1970, and St. Croix’s Anguilla landfill, in operation since 1966, were not built to take trash over the long term. She said the authority has made strides toward meeting federal regulations, including awarding a contract and obtaining the necessary permits to build a St. Croix waste transfer station and obtaining $3.8 million in local funds to trap methane being emitted at the Bovoni dump.

“It’s kind of a little bit of a shoot-down when you’re working so hard to get something done,” Cornwall said. But, according to the federal government’s lawsuit, the authority has not been working hard enough. The EPA has been working with the local government for 10 years to bring the landfills into compliance with federal standards.

In June 2000, the V.I. government was tasked with correcting issues at the Bovoni landfill that resulted from improper disposal of medical and septic waste, failure to consistently cover the dump with dirt, improper disposal of used oil, the dumping of lead-acid batteries, contaminants seeping into Mangrove Lagoon and subterranean and surface fires at the dump, according to the lawsuit.

At Anguilla, the V.I. government agreed in September 2001 to correct issues that included failure to consistently cover the dump with dirt, inadequate security, inadequate inspection of garbage loads for hazardous waste, and subterranean and surface fires, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says that the Waste Management Authority also agreed to make plans to close both dumps.

In October 2007, the authority submitted a landfill compliance schedule for Anguilla that said the dump would be closed by December 2008, the lawsuit states. In November 2005, the authority submitted a timetable to the EPA that promised that a long-term construction contract for the Bovoni landfill — including execution of the landfill’s closure — would be awarded by June 2008.

As of May 21, the progress with both landfills was deemed unsatisfactory enough that the U.S. Justice Department filed the suit on behalf of the EPA.

The lawsuit seeks the following penalties:

•    A fine of up to $27,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act from April 6, 2001, to March 15, 2004, at the Bovoni landfill

•    A fine of up to $27,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act from April 6, 2001, to March 15, 2004, at the Anguilla landfill.

•    A fine of up to $32,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act from March 15, 2004, to January 12, 2009, at the Bovoni landfill.

•    A fine of up to $32,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act from March 15, 2004, to January 12, 2009, at the Anguilla landfill.

•    A fine of up to $37,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act after January 12, 2009, at the Bovoni landfill.

•    A fine of up to $37,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act after January 12, 2009, at the Anguilla landfill.

Cornwall said that the lawsuit was “regrettable in the sense that it doesn’t send a good message to this community or to the staff that has been working extremely hard,” but added that a court action might help the authority garner the political will to charge waste fees to pay for the management and closure of the territory’s landfills.

The Environmental Protection Agency could not be reached by presstime for comment on the lawsuit.

 

Your Island, Your Health – St Croix

 

Your Island, Your Health

Every single one of us requires air and water for survival. Without air to breathe we would not last but a few minutes. Without water to drink our bodies dry up, our organs systems fail and we die. If air and water are essential for our immediate survival, it makes sense that clear air and water are desirable. We can even go a step further and say that clean air and water are essential for health and a decent quality of life. You don’t have to be an expert to know the value of clean air and water- invaluable. This is not rocket science.

If you think that there is more than enough clean air out there so we can afford to get some dirty, think again. If you think that there is more than enough clean water out there, so we can afford to pollute some of it think again.

Right now most of us drink water that we buy in little plastic bottles that are filling up landfills because we don’t trust that our water supply is safe enough to drink. Right now the incidence of asthma, respiratory diseases, cancer, and allergies appears to be abnormally and curiously high in neighborhoods downwind of power plants and oil refineries.

What do we say to industry when we are told that burning petroleum coke aka “dirty coal” to incinerate municipal trash won’t kill us. According to the November 2009 report from Physicians for Social Responsibility, coal pollutants affect all major body systems and contribute to four of the five leading causes of death, namely heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic respiratory disease thusly compounding the major public health challenges of our time. Coal combustion releases a combination of toxic chemicals into the environment such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, heavy metals including mercury and nickel, and dozens of other substances known to be hazardous to human health and the health of our entire ecosystem. In other words, we are working seriously hard to poison ourselves and the entire planet—piece by piece.

Heavy metals, such as lead, nickel, and mercury, poison key enzyme systems of the body and are known to cause a host of degenerative, age related diseases. Our bodies cannot effectively eliminate these heavy metals, so they accumulate over our lifetime. When we are young and healthy most of us handle this toxic stress by hiding the toxins within our cells, but eventually the cells become overburdened and the toxicity spills out and begins to affect the entire body and we get sick. Sickness starts slowly and insidiously with age-related conditions such as hypertension and hyperlipidemia, or we may feel tired for no good reason. In later years metal toxicity may show itself in disease states that can end our lives, including heart disease and cancer, or degenerative brain diseases like senility and Alzheimer’s.

What do we say to industry experts when they tell us, “don’t worry, we’ll burn your trash and everything will be just fine,” as plastics, pesticides, and household chemicals which are all mixed up in our municipal waste release poisonous gases from incinerator smoke stacks.

While the experts tell us, don’t worry about that dirty air, “we’ll wash and scrub it before it is released”, a New York Times article in October of this past year reports, “even as a growing number of coal burning power plants around the nation have moved to reduce their air emissions, many are creating another problem, water pollution. Power plants are the nation’s biggest producer of toxic waste. Much power plant waste once went into the sky, but because of toughened air pollution laws, it now often goes into lakes and rivers or into landfills that have leaked into nearby groundwater, say regulators and environmentalists.

What do we say as organic pollutants filter into our ground water and acid rain falls and collects in our cisterns? This is the water that we shower with and give to our plants. These are the toxins that become part of our fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds that we then eat. To put it simply, that little bit of dirty air and water is now a part of your body. You are now the reservoir of environmental pollutants and toxins. Now you need some serious detox.

How do we measure how much dirty air and polluted water and toxic food we can tolerate before the risks outweigh the “benefits”? You don’t have to be an expert to figure that out, it’s not rocket science. Look around at your friends and family, look at yourself.

On this small island in the Caribbean where we supposedly have lots of clean air and water look at the incidence of asthma, respiratory diseases, cancer, heart disease, and elevated cholesterol in your friends and loved ones. Remember the lobster that you put in the pot and then put on a slow flame. That lobster heated up so slowly that it did not notice the heat till it was dead. So, who wants to be a cooked lobster?

For those of us who are not industry experts, lets review the facts. A corporate entity has convinced us to pay them to solve our solid waste problem and give us the added benefit of a little electricity to the tune of 2 – 3 billion dollars, yes, billion. The direct cost to ratepayers: over $3 billion not including environmental, health, and socioeconomic costs.

The experts plan to solve our problem by purchasing and using pet coke, a waste derived from refining crude oil to burn the trash from our land fills and create PRDF, pelletized refuse derived fuel, which they will then burn to create a relatively small amount of electricity. A lot of burning going on and we know what burning dirty coal does to air and water quality.

In this whole process they will also create 379,000 tons per year of toxic waste, fly ash, which we will then have to pay and beg to have carted off the island or more than likely the fly ash will stay on to create a hazardous landfill. We still have a big red mountain of toxic waste somewhere off the highway after umpteen years. I thought we were supposed to be getting rid of our landfills not creating more of them.

We are told that we must approve this preposterous proposition now, otherwise we will have to pay fines to the Federal Government for failure to close our landfills, and further more nobody can afford to pay their water and power bills. We are being asked to create Frankenstein to kill a skunk, but after the skunk is dead we will be left with a creation that will cost us dearly—not just us but our generations to come.

Let us be aware that in addition to $3 billion dollars we will be paying with our health and quality of life for our children and us. According to a new RAND Corporation report, elevated air pollution levels in California which has some of the most stringent air quality controls in the country, resulted in more than $193 million in hospital-based medical care between 2005 and 2007.

We will be paying with loss of property values. We will be paying with loss of our economic marketing strategy of ecotourism. Who wants to visit an island paradise with smokestacks in your face? Who wants to be downwind, and who knows which way the wind will blow?

Why are we going backward with old dirty fuels on the advise of corporate entities whose sole purpose is to make a profit? Have we forgotten the executives of Wall Street and the Banking Industry? Have we forgotten Sir. Allen Stanford and his duping of the entire island state of Antigua and its impact on us here on St. Croix? Do we really think that corporate America cares for our health and well being?

Here is a new plan. Let’s call in the real experts. While the rest of the world is moving forward with recycling, green technology, and renewable energy like wind and solar, we are creating a giant technology that is taking us back to the past. We must realize that we cannot continue to befoul our air and water, ourselves, and the very earth that allows us to live and breathe and have our being, without consequences.

Let’s call in the real experts to offer us new, clean, and affordable technology that will support our health and prosperity now, and for our generations. Let’s put solar panels on every roof and wind turbines where the wind blows. That will cut everyone’s energy costs significantly. When the wind don’t blow and the sun don’t shine there is geothermal from Nevis, and possibly St. Thomas.

Let’s upgrade VIWAPA and make it more efficient and reliable. Let’s recycle our waste and sell it for a profit. For 3 billion dollars, I am confident that we could do that and more. With 3 billion dollars we could fix a lot of problems, instead of paying through the nose to create more.

So what do you say when industry experts want to sell you a bill of goods? Say thanks, but no thanks, we have better ideas. This is not rocket science. It is common sense. Let’s start using a little bit of it.

Let us understand that we can no longer trust that industry experts care about our health, and well being, and prosperity ahead of their bottom line—profit. We can no longer afford to separate our morality from our business ventures. We can no longer afford to shoot ourselves in the feet.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “ an individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” We are that humanity. Lets wake up and take action to stop the madness.

Cheryl Wade, MD, FACS

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