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EPA Enters Agreement for Cleanup Study at the Vega Baja Solid Waste Disposal Superfund Site

Release Date: 05/20/2003
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(#03058) The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that three companies and four Commonwealth agencies have agreed to investigate the soil contamination at the Vega Baja Solid Waste Disposal Superfund site and study feasible alternatives for cleaning it up. The site is located in the Rio Abajo Ward, Vega Baja, Puerto Rico.

The companies and agencies that signed a consent order with EPA are Browning-Ferris Industries of Puerto Rico Inc., Motorola Electronica de Puerto Rico Inc., Pfizer Inc., the Municipality of Vega Baja, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the Puerto Rico Housing Department and the Puerto Rico Land Authority.

“We went in to this residential area right away and took out some highly-contaminated soil that could have had serious health effects,” said EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny. “Now we are going to study the soil on the whole site to see what other cleanup activities might be necessary.”

Between 1948 and 1979, the site was operated as a municipal landfill, and commercial, industrial and domestic wastes were dumped and/or burned there. During the 1970s, families began constructing residences in an area of the site now known as Brisas del Rosario, which contains approximately 200 houses. Between 1994 and 1996, the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board conducted two site inspections, which found high levels of lead in the soil; and the site was referred to EPA for assessment.

Throughout 1998, EPA conducted sampling and analysis at the site to evaluate lead contamination in soils. In addition, analysis revealed that several other metals and a pesticide (dieldrin) were present in levels that exceeded the risk-based-concentration (RBC) screening levels. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were also found, but at levels below the RBC. Between 1999 and 2001, EPA took action on three parcels that contained some of the highest concentrations of lead in the soils. To protect the families living there, lead-contaminated soil from the three properties was excavated and disposed of off-site.

EPA placed the site on the National Priorities List of the most serious hazardous waste sites in July 1999. Additional soil samples were collected throughout the site in June 2001 to determine if dioxin was also present at the site. It was not found to be a chemical of concern. The consent order released May 1 provides for a complete investigation of soil contamination and a study to determine appropriate cleanup alternatives.