• The San Juan Daily Star

Chemists: Coal ash toxicity impacts southern aquifer

The Chemists Association of Puerto Rico has released data about the presence of toxins from dumped coal ash in the southern aquifer and its consequences for the health of residents of that part of the island.

By John McPhaul

The Chemists Association of Puerto Rico (CQPR by its Spanish initials) revealed data earlier this week about the impact of coal ash on the southern aquifer and its consequences on the health of residents of that area of the island.

“This ash contains concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, molybdenum, lead, selenium, and vanadium. Although they were not included in this exploratory study, some elements in their radioactive form are also found among the pollutants in the ash,” said Dr. Osvaldo Rosario, CQPR scientific advisor and part of the AES Ash Ad-Hoc Committee, in a written communication issued Wednesday. “The official method to measure the toxicity of ash includes an extraction step [toxicity characteristic leaching procedure, TCLP], which does not efficiently extract the toxins from the ash, leading to a classification of the ash as non-toxic. The EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] has known this for decades, but lobbying by the multi-billion-dollar coal industry has halted all efforts to change it. The results of this exploratory study show that toxic and carcinogenic pollutants are reaching the water consumed by the residents of this area.”

The study conducted by the CQPR began in 2018. As part of its efforts, the institution founded in 1941 has also developed two symposia on the subject, in which members of the affected communities have participated along with representatives of the EPA’s Caribbean office and the island Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER).

The investigation was developed with the purpose of verifying if the ash that has been deposited in the lands of the southern aquifer are affecting the quality of the drinking water. It should be noted that, as part of the sampling process, two studies have been carried out this year, the first on March 1 and the second in August, to see the possible presence of contaminants in the ash.

These data are even more relevant during hurricane season because when rain falls on exposed ash, it dissolves toxic and carcinogenic pollutants and transports them underground until they reach aquifers.

To expand the data of the study, the CQPR has twice asked the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) and the DNER for access to their wells to take samples. As of Wednesday, authorization had not been granted to the CQPR.

Meanwhile, Law 40 of 2017 was approved to “Prohibit the Deposit and Disposal of Coal Ash or Coal Combustion Residues in Puerto Rico.”

The CQPR will continue to study the quality of the waters of the southern aquifer, expanding its research to Arroyo and Salinas, where ash has also been deposited, the CQPR said.

“The Chemists Association and the residents of these areas demand that PRASA closely monitor this aquifer to identify contaminants characteristic of the ash and keep the people informed,” said Dr. Edgard Resto, who chairs the CQPR Advisory Committee. “The government and relevant agencies are also required to request the power generator AES to remove any ash deposits on aquifer lands. As long as this deposited ash remains on the ground, it will continue to carry these pollutants to the aquifer.”

For the benefit of citizens and as part of its transparency mission, the CQPR has conducted symposia that discuss the topic scientifically and in detail and made them accessible through the CQPR homepage:

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