Osceola commissioners ask company to stop importing coal ash from Puerto Rico

Commissioners have asked to rescind prior approval after backlash

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - After backlash from residents, the Osceola County Commissions has asked to rescind its agreement with a private company to accept tons of coal ash from Puerto Rico.

Osceola County Board Chairwoman Cheryl Grieb sent a letter to Waste Connections, the private waste company operating JED landfill, informing it of the decision and asking to rescind the agreement.

According to the letter dated May 14, the commission requested Waste Connections to cease accepting coal ash from Puerto Rico immediately.

"During the meeting, significant public testimony was presented expressing concerns with the presence of toxins in the ash and the potential of both environmental damage and human illness," Grieb wrote.

Grieb said the decision was made after public comment from more than two dozen citizens during Monday's commission meeting

It is now up to Waste Connections to decide if it will accept the commission's request.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. If not disposed of properly, the ash can pollute waterways, groundwater, drinking water and the air. There are federal regulations that landfills that dispose of coal ash must meet, according to the EPA.

The Osceola County Commission approved the agreement April 1 with Waste Connections of Osceola County to accept and dispose of coal combustion from coal-fired power plants in Puerto Rico, according to the meeting agenda.

Florida lawmakers and Osceola residents immediately voiced their opposition.

After community concern and questions, county commissioners sent a letter to Waste Connections asking for more information surrounding the contract.

The coal would have been imported from Puerto Rican power company AES, according to the agreement, and disposed of at JED Disposal Facility in St. Cloud. The county expected 325,000 tons, or 650 million pounds, of coal ash.

AES and Waste Connection officials addressed the continued concerns about the contract Monday at the commissioners' meeting.

John Bigalbal, managing director with Global Fuel AES, said the material is treated before it leaves Puerto Rico.

"If this material was something dangerous, which it's not clearly stated by the EPA, we would be the one showing the symptoms, and we are not," Elias Sostre, operations manager with AES Guayama, Puerto Rico, said.

Chris Ruane, region engineering manager with Waste Connections, said the landfill created a barrier to prevent coal ash from leaking into the water system. 

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