In the town of Peñuelas a whole social movement has been formed in order to protect the health of its residents. It all started when the company AES Puerto Rico LP used the facilities of the EC Waste landfill to dispose its coal ashes. The reason of these manifestations and movement that takes by name “Camp Against Ashes of Coal, Peñuelas” is the toxicity of these in the ground, in the aquifers and in the air. Who is right?
The company AES Puerto Rico LP assures and continues to assure that the ashes are not toxic and do not generate any type of danger for the population. In fact on numerous occasions during the case in the court AES Puerto Rico LP vs Trujillo-Panisse and in numerous public expressions have ensured that the disposal of these ashes help the decomposition of the waste, lengthen the life of the landfills, allegedly comply with revisions of the Environmental Quality Board and the Natural Resources Agency. Even so, opposition to this practice continues, to which AES officials branded this collective effort as an opposition to progress and economic development.
On May 23 Secretary of the Health Department Dr. Rafael Rodríguez Mercado stated that coal ash could have toxic agents making disposal and storage of them a threat to public health. The same secretary said, “It is accepted that the waste from coal combustion in its ash form has detrimental effects on heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases (asthma, obstructive lung disease) and cerebrovascular accidents.” EPA carried out an investigation in 2012 in Guayama, where AES also deposits this ashes, the research proves that these ashes are toxic and harmful to humans and the environment. However, AES insists that its product does not represent any danger.
The PS81 is the bill of the Senate of Puerto Rico to create a law prohibiting the deposition of coal ash in the island cataloged by Senator Juan Dalmau as a “hoax” according to his expressions in his social networks. Although this law does comply with the purpose of prohibiting coal ash on the island, it does not directly prohibit the product called Agremax (a brand with which AES sells its coal ash for the production of cement and other construction materials). Then this opens the way that today July 12, 2017 AES company can deposit its toxic product in the landfill being in compliance with the law.
Given this panorama of todays morning AES has resumed operations in the Peñuelas landfill protected by the Puerto Rico State Police. This protection is given because according to the provisions of House Bill 743 that changes in the Penal Code of Puerto Rico makes it completely illegal for any citizen to prevent the work of both the private or public sector. Anyone who violates this new provision faces a fine or several years in prison at the discretion of the court. First, they criminalize forms of protest through House Bill 743, now allowing the constitutional right to health to be violated. What else awaits us?