The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed Wednesday adding a former battery recycling facility in Arecibo to its Superfund National Priorities List of the country’s most hazardous sites. As a result of previous operations, the site is contaminated with lead, arsenic and heavy metals.
Furthermore, the agency announced the addition of the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site to the list.
The site of the Battery Recycling Co. Inc. in Arecibo is contaminated with lead, arsenic and heavy metals as a result of previous operations. Before it stopped operating in 2014, company took in tons of used batteries each month and smelted them into lead ingots.
“Lead from The Battery Recycling Co. Inc. facility has polluted the air and land in this Arecibo community and even spread to the homes of workers. This is why we have worked extensively to address the lead contamination in this site. Now, by adding the site to our federal Superfund list, the EPA will make cleaning up the Battery Recycling site a national priority,” said EPA’s Caribbean Environmental Division’s Director Carmen R. Guerrero-Pérez.
In 2010 and 2011, the EPA conducted a series of inspections of the facility to determine the company’s compliance with federal laws and regulations. Various enforcement actions were taken against the company including issuance of an EPA administrative order in June 2011 under which the company agreed to, among other things, clean up and prevent sources of lead dust at the facility.
EPA also assessed homes and vehicles of former company employees that had become contaminated with lead dust from the facility. The EPA evaluated 202 homes and 282 vehicles, and the company then cleaned up 149 residential properties and 145 vehicles under the order with EPA oversight.
Following the shutdown of the facility in 2014, the company stopped complying with the order, and EPA took over the work. EPA then worked to stabilize lead slag piles and contaminated wastewater to minimize the most immediate releases at the site. That work is ongoing, the agency said.
Meanwhile, sampling at the Dorado site has found chemical contamination that is impacting wells used to supply drinking water to the local communities, EPA said.
Drinking water with the solvents, which include tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, can have serious health impacts including damage to the liver and increasing the risk of cancer, it noted.
When contamination was found at drinking water supply wells of the Maguayo and Dorado Urbano public water systems, the Puerto Rico Department of Health ordered to close the impacted wells to protect public health. The Maguayo and Dorado Urbano public water systems have drinking water wells that serve approximately 67,000 people.
Currently, the drinking water used by the community in non-impacted wells complies with drinking water standards. The supplied drinking water is also being tested on a quarterly basis, as required by the Puerto Rico Department of Health.
The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups rather than passing the costs on to taxpayers. The EPA searches for parties legally responsible for contaminating a site, and holds those parties accountable for cleanup costs.