Puerto Rico’s Diaspora Raises Awareness About Peñuelas Coal Ash Dumping on Island

Via Peñuelas organizers (Used with permission)

As Boricuas in Puerto Rico keep protesting and fighting to end the dumping of toxic coal ash in Peñuelas and other areas of the island, different organizations and activists in the mainland United States are stepping up to call on the Puerto Ricans diaspora and its allies to take action.

On Sunday, a rally will take place in Peñuelas to protest against the toxic ashes. Meanwhile. the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda (CTPRA), Defend Puerto Rico, Diaspora en Resistencia and other organizations will hold a Twitterstorm to support the people in Peñuelas.

The Twitterstorm will encourage people to use hashtags like #ToxicAshesKill, #PuertoRico and #PeñuelasSinCenizas to “amplify the voice and be in solidarity with the people in the island,” organizer María Torres-López told Latino Rebels via a phone interview.

CTPRA has also created a call to action petition to demand that the government of Puerto Rico act immediately to stop the dumping and conversion of toxic coal ash in the island. The government has banned coal ash from landfills, but it is still legal “to export the toxic byproduct of coal combustion after converting it to construction material.”

“We need to mobilize these communities in the United States to pressure those responsible by providing them with tools to educate them on what is happening in the island,” CTPRA president Jason Ortiz told Latino Rebels.

Since 2015, many activists have been protesting in Peñuelas, a municipality located at the south of the island, by blocking trucks that carry the coal ash from entering the Peñuelas landfill. Applied Energy Systems (AES) is the American private energy company responsible for the toxic coal ash dumped in Peñuelas and other areas of the island.

These actions have been legal since 2015 when the Puerto Rico Electric and Power Authority (PREPA) and AES signed an agreement that would allow the company to dispose the coal ash as reported by Centro de Periodismo Investigativo.

Professor Osvaldo Rosario at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) did a test taking coal ash from some of the buildings that have been built with this waste material. The results were that these coal ashes contained mercury, arsenic and other toxic and cancer-causing chemicals as reported by Puerto Rican newspaper, Primera Hora.

UPR students did more research in which they found that people who live in Guayama are 2.5 times more likely to develop asthma than in Fajardo. Guayama is the industrial area where the AES coal plan is located, and it is known to have high levels of coal ash.

Few people on the mainland know about this issue. For this reason, these organizations and coalition groups like CTPRA and Diaspora en Resistencia are working together to bring this issue to light and give support to the people in the island.

“We have the responsibility to make our voices heard because the people of the diaspora have the power to elect politicians that care about Puerto Ricans,” Ortiz said.

You can see the petition here and join the Twitterstorm here.

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María Camila Montañez is a journalism student at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s Spanish-language program. She is originally from Colombia and tweets from @mariacmontanez.

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