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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

EPA adds Ochoa Fertilizer to List of Highly Contaminated Sites

Professor of environmental engineering Helena Solo-Gabriele analyzes a Guánica Bay sediment sample for dissolved oxygen.

By The Star Staff

In a move that will allow it to protect nearby communities from contamination, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday added the Ochoa Fertilizer Co. site in Guánica to its Superfund National Priorities List (NPL).

The list includes the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned releases of pollution. The document serves as the basis for prioritizing EPA Superfund cleanup funding and enforcement actions. EPA proposes sites to the Superfund National Priorities List based on a scientific determination of risks to people and the environment.

“Today’s news that EPA is adding the Ochoa Fertilizer Co. site to the National Priorities List is another example of EPA’s longstanding commitment to the people of Puerto Rico,” EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia said in a statement. “With the federal tools and resources now at our disposal, EPA is putting words into action in order to protect human health and safeguard the Guánica Bay, one of Puerto Rico’s most precious natural resources.”

The Ochoa Fertilizer Co. site includes a former fertilizer manufacturing facility near Guánica Bay in Guánica, Puerto Rico. The facility includes two parcels -- a 13-acre western lot along Guánica Bay and a 112-acre eastern lot within 500 feet of the Bay. Former facility operators manufactured ammonia, ammonium sulfate, and sulfuric acid beginning in the 1950s. The company stopped operating on the eastern lot between 1968 and 1970; however, fertilizer manufacturing on the western lot has continued to the present day. Past operations at the site resulted in releases of hazardous substances at and from the eastern lot, contaminating soil and causing environmental degradation to Guánica Bay. As a result, there is a potential risk of exposure to nearby residents from soil contaminated with mercury, lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other contaminants.

In addition, previous studies from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration identified elevated levels of contamination near the site that could threaten corals, fish, and aquatic life. Studies from the University of Miami also show elevated PCB levels in bay sediment and fish samples. The University also evaluated blood samples from Guánica residents for PCBs. The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources supports the inclusion of the site to the Superfund NPL.

Thousands of contaminated sites, from landfills, processing plants, to manufacturing facilities exist nationally due to hazardous waste being dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed. President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will accelerate EPA’s work to help communities clean up these contaminated sites with a $3.5 billion investment in the Superfund Remedial Program and reinstates the Superfund chemical excise taxes, making it one of the largest investments in American history to address legacy pollution. This historic investment strengthens EPA’s ability to tackle threats to human health and the environment, and EPA has already set action in motion to clear the backlog of the 49 contaminated sites which had been awaiting funding to start remedial action.

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