Coal Ash Wednesday: The toxification of Puerto Rico

The dangers of being an unincorporated U.S. territory:

Since 2002, when AES’s coal-fired electricity plant was opened under the auspices of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), AES has been littering the territory with poisonous coal ash waste. Over the past 17 years, the Virginia-based company, which produces 17 percent of the territory’s electricity, is responsible for roughly 400,000 documented tons of coal ash, dumped without adequate safeguards, exposing local communities to major public-health hazards.

It's bad enough that we don't clamp down on U.S. companies that dangerously pollute other countries. But Puerto Rico is not a foreign entity; those are American citizens being poisoned, and they deserve the same safeguards we have. That's not asking for much, frankly, because even we don't have the safeguards we need. But this would not fly here:

According to investigations by the local media outlet Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI), there is significant evidence of a “cancer epidemic” in the areas exposed to the coal ash, as well as respiratory diseases. Studies commissioned by the company have further revealed that because the plant has not been equipped with protective barriers, the toxic residues of the plant have leached into the soil and contaminated groundwater with toxins like arsenic and mercury.

In addition, the local environmental agency, JCA, allowed the company to dump over 2 million tons of the toxic ash in 12 municipalities across the territory from 2004 to 2011, also without structural safeguards. As CPI explains, the environmental dangers are deeply ingrained in the local landscape—not only because there are virtually no protections against ongoing contamination through rain and runoff, but because the pollution was literally engineered into the infrastructure of the impacted communities, “as landfill in residential and commercial projects, as well as roads and water retention ponds.” A further one million tons of coal ash is simply unaccounted for.

In other words, they didn't just sweep it under the rug, they made the damn rug using coal ash to begin with.

Tags: