Coal ash from power plants in Puerto Rico finds its way to Osceola County landfill

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Boat loads of coal ash -- generated as waste from Puerto Rico’s power plants -- are crossing the Atlantic Ocean and getting transferred into trucks before ending up in a Central Florida landfill.

Those living near the Holopaw landfill are worried because they are already having issues with their water.

"We have to have filters on every house, it's the odor," said resident David Braun. "You get a lot of odor, like the egg smell and that."

Channel 9 discovered the J.E.D. Landfill on Omni Way in St. Cloud and others like it have been taking coal dust for years—but only from in-state sources. Osceola County leaders had to approve an exemption to existing rules last month and lasting through December in order to allow the Puerto Rican coal ash to be dumped within county lines.

Lawsuits over alleged coal-ash sickness in east Orange County are spotlighting known health issues with certain types of coal ash. The controversy plays into the public dialogue happening in Osceola County, though the specifics of each county’s involvement with coal waste differs.

In 2017, Puerto Rico banned dumping coal ash for the "life, health and general welfare of the people," according to the territory’s Senate Bill 81 from that year.

"Puerto Rico has a lot of problems with illegal dumping," said Commissioner Fred Hawkins, who heads Osceola County's District 5 and believes any comparisons are unfail. "When you see these ash pools that people are talking about with no liners, that's really illegal dumping."

Hawkins and landfill officials are asking residents to trust the system, arguing that the J.E.D. facility is built to DEP and EPA standards, double-lined to prevent seepage into the ground and government-monitored for leaks. Puerto Rico lacks such facilities, Hawkins said.

Hawkins abstained from the vote, but the rest of the county’s commissioners approved the lowering of fees associated with disposing of Puerto Rico’s coal ash, making it cheaper for the island’s utilities to get rid of the waste and potentially more profitable for J.E.D.’s owner, Waste Connections, which declined to answer questions Tuesday about the volume of coal ash being disposed of in Osceola County.

Residents, faced with questions over who’s profiting from the deal, said they find it tough to believe the safety claims.

"I mean, if they don't want it [in Puerto Rico], what's the reason they don't want it there?" Braun asked. “Why should we take it?"

The county later admitted it has no proof that the coal ash is safe.

According to the CDC, coal ash can cause skin and eye irritation, respiratory problems, nausea, diarrhea and cancer.

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