Applied Energy Systems (AES), which is an electrical energy production company, signed a contract with the Electrical Energy Authority in Puerto Rico (AEE) known as the Power Purchase and Operating Agreement, which states that the AEE will buy coal based electrical energy for 25 years since the beginning of their operation in Guayama, Puerto Rico in the year 2000.
The waste this power plant generates are fly and dry ash. The Power Purchase and Operating Agreement stated that these residues cannot stay in Puerto Rico for more than 180 days. The waste was used as construction and agriculture aggregates named Agremax, and some wastes not used for this product were exported to Arroyo Barril, Dominican Republic, where 27,000 tons of rock ash were deposited. The population around these deposits started to witness abortions spikes and respiratory problems. AES was sued by the Dominican Republic government and paid $6,000,000 to settle the lawsuit. Currently AES doesn’t export the wastes to Dominican Republic. This company generates 400 to 1600 tons of coal ash daily. They have a revenue of approximately 1 million dollars by selling energy to AEE. The company generates 15% of the country's energy. Since the Board of Environmental Quality (JCA) considers these ashes nontoxic, over 2 million tons of the residues have been used in different parts of the island for construction purposes known as Agremax. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studied the leaching behavior of Agremax and found that it releases highly toxic heavy metals like beryllium and arsenic which can lixiviate into the ground and contaminate underground waters by movement in the phreatic level and reaching any aquifers contaminating them. In August 18, 2014, EPA made it clear to AEE that the AES can dispose their coal residues in landfill in Puerto Rico. Several lawsuits were made to prevent the deposits of these wastes, but only the municipality of Peñuelas could make a municipal ordinance to prevent the deposits of these coal residues in any form, either for construction or dumping. This made it possible for the municipality of Humacao to apply the same ordinance. AES sued the municipalities of Humacao and Peñuelas stating that the municipal ordinance of denying the coal ash deposits where anticonstitutional, but the Federal Court of Puerto Rico concluded that the municipal ordinances are valid. In April 2015, EPA created a new regulation that applies to the coal ash residues considering it a nontoxic solid waste.
The management standards for these residues is minimal. The ashes started to be deposited in Peñuelas Valley Landfill (PVL) since the year 2015 causing protests in front of PVL. Considering that EPA classifies the ashes as nontoxic, JCA approved the deposits in El Coqui Landfill in Humacao (ECL) and PVL. This started protests in Peñuelas where residents close to the PVL and environmental and social activist mobilized themselves to the entrance of PVL preventing the entrance of theses ashes. PVL sued some of the protestors and accused them of public nuisance. Students of Bioestadisticsfrom from the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus, made a study comparing people who lived in places where there’s coal ash exposure and people who weren’t exposed to these ashes to see the difference of disease prevalence. Places with these coal residues have high disease rates compared to places where there were no ashes. Other studies have been done to see the effects of these coal wastes generated by coal burning, mostly calling them toxic, but EPA and JCA haven’t recognized theses studies which is why these too entities consider them nontoxic. The House of Representatives of Puerto Rico have issued a resolution for the use and management of the carbon ashes AES produces, ordering the JCA to study the toxicity of the ashes and to use the results to create and apply new standards. This is still and ongoing process.