Soto calls for federal review of plan to dump 650 million pounds of coal ash in Osceola

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U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has called for a federal review of the plan to import 650 million pounds of coal ash from Puerto Rico to dump at an Osceola County landfill.

"I oppose the importation of coal ash into Osceola County and encourage the county commission to reverse course on its decision," Soto, D-Kissimmee, said in a statement. "We have also requested a review of this matter from our U.S. House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change as well as the Environmental Protection Agency."



The county recently allowed Waste Connections, the private owner of the JED Solid Waste Facility disposal site, to import up to 325,000 tons of the coal ash through December. In return, Waste Connections will pay the county $2 per ton imported. This could bring in up to $650,000 for Osceola County.

Osceola residents criticized the commissioners for making the decision without public comment or discussion at the county's Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday.



"It is not right when our elected officials make such important decisions behind closed doors, without a full public hearing," Marcos Vilar, executive director of local activist group Alianza for Progress, told El Nuevo Dia. "There are real questions about transparency in our political process when tons and tons of coal ash or any other pollutants are suddenly shipped to our community for deposit."

The JED Solid Waste Facility is located right off U.S. Highway 441 in St. Cloud, wedged between four state wildlife areas. The facility is a double-lined landfill, the Osceola News-Gazette reported, which makes the spread of contamination less likely. 

Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins addressed concerns about the deposits of coal ash in a meeting last week.

"We would never allow anything to come in we thought would harm our citizens," Hawkins said, according to WKMG News 6. "It is considered a special waste along with contaminated, sludge and bio solids. They are all tested at the site of origin before it is ever transported to the disposal facility to make sure they're not toxic or hazardous."

Coal ash contains contaminants such as arsenic and mercury, according to the EPA. If not disposed of properly, it can pollute the air and nearby water sources. There is also concern that clouds of ash could make their way to local roads.

A 2018 Duke University study published in the North Carolina Medical Journal analyzed 113 studies conducted in the past 30 years and found evidence that people who lived near coal-fired plants had higher death rates, as well as an increased risk of respiratory disease, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. These health issues were associated with exposure to air, soil and water pollutants, as well as radioactive isotopes produced in burning coal.

"If you have communities nearby, they're going to be constantly exposed to this ash powder," Osvaldo Rosario, a chemistry professor at the University Puerto Rico, told the Osceola News-Gazette. "As a scientist, my concern with the current coal ash shipment is the potential for contamination of our aquifer."

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