Community, environmental groups demand gov’t cancel AES contract with PREPA

Say island ‘can’t take seven more years of pollution’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The STAR

The coalition Resistance Against Toxic Coal Ash and Carbon Combustion in Puerto Rico gathered Monday with other environmental and community organizations to demand that the island government cancel Applied Energy Systems’ (AES) coal bunker contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) “because it puts thousands of southern islanders’ lives in danger.”

Southeastern Environmental Community Alliance spokesperson Timmy Boyle said that even if the contract has seven years left until it reaches its deadline, either governor Wanda Vázquez Garced or governor-elect Pedro Pierluisi should repeal the deal immediately because “our lives and health are more valuable than anything else.”

“Puerto Ricans who live in the South can’t take seven more years of pollution that makes us ill and poisons us more as the days go by,” Boyle said, adding that the coalition has requested a repeal for 18 years as the enterprise took blame for polluting groundwater in the town of Guayama with radiation and heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium, selenium, molibdenum and other toxins.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico Physicians and Surgeons Association (CMCPR by its Spanish initials) Medical Foundation President Domingo Luis Cáceres Ortiz raised concern “not only for Guayama, but for the rest of Puerto Rico.”

“This is based on the situation of having a coal bunker that generates toxic coal ash [that ends up in] our bodies of water and our lands 24/7, during the 365 days of the year at the cost of $350 million, which is an amount of money difficult for our country to produce,” Cáceres Ortiz said. “We have been in the forefront of working with these communities as they are not only impoverished, they also have very specific needs.”

The CMCPR Medical Foundation president told members of the press that according to a research study conducted by Dr. Luis Bonilla and students from the School of Public Health at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus, citizens exposed to coal bunkers are more susceptible to ailments such as “respiratory issues, cardiovascular complications, severe allergies and, what we fear the most, different types of cancer.”

Cáceres Ortiz said later that he has received letters from AES since the research study was released threatening that the foundation must “cease and desist [from holding] any press conferences unless they were notified.”

“We met at the [Physicians and Surgeons] Association and told them that we don’t need to ask for permission when we have to talk about health issues,” Cáceres Ortiz said. “If they believe that our research study was prepared in favor of the community, we demand that they release their own studies.”

“At the moment, we haven’t received any research studies from them,” he added.

“These kinds of power stations are being shut down around the world. We don’t need more stations that produce electric power using coal,” the physician insisted. “This is not a whim of the doctors, this is a whim of the health of our people. We have to fight so that this country has health.”

Meanwhile, Erasmo Cruz, spokesperson for Comunidad Guayamesa Unidos por su Salud, called on the island Natural and Environmental Resources Department and Health Department to “get their act together and do something about the coal ash.”

“We are breathing coal ash every day,” he said. “Our bodies of water in both Guayama and Salinas, where [AES] has spread coal ash, are also polluted, our roads are being filled with coal ash; everywhere we move, there’s coal ash. Has Natural Resources done something about it? No. Has the Health Department done something? No. Who else must we complain to? They’re murdering us.”

Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union President Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo said the union has been in support of the community since the coal bunker began operations in 1994 “because it was not going to produce any new jobs, it was going to pollute our country, and it was not going to reduce electric power price rates.”

“We wish to flip a switch and have electric power, we want to live in the comfort of modern times, but that comfort should not be at the cost of our citizens’ lives,” Figueroa Jaramillo said, later insisting that the both the AES and the LUMA Energy contracts with PREPA should be repealed “because they pose a threat to our well being.”

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