ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – An investigative reporter in Puerto Rico says he’s witnessed damaging effects that have been blamed on coal ash there.
Omar Alfonso contacted News4Jax after the I-TEAM obtained an internal email from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which revealed that at least 9,300 tons of coal ash have spilled from a barge that’s stranded in the ocean off the coast of Atlantic Beach.
Putting that amount into perspective -- 9,300 tons of the coal ash product, known as Agremax, is equivalent to 800 standard garbage trucks.
″The people of Atlantic Beach and the people of Jacksonville should be very concerned about this,” Alfonso said.
Since 2015, Alfonso’s award-winning weekly paper has been investigating AES, which is the operator of the power plant whose ash was being carried aboard the cargo ship.
The barge carrying a total of 12,000 tons of Agremax from Puerto Rico to Jacksonville ran aground more than two months ago and was damaged by high seas.
An internal email obtained by the News4JAX I-TEAM from FWC Pollution Response Coordinator Timyn J. Rice reads in part:
“It is estimated that 9,314 tons of Agremax (coal ash from Puerto Rico) was released from the cargo hold when the barge shifted in heavy seas on May 14th.”
Rice writes the “report indicates the Agremax toxicity is low in seawater, with the primary concern being physical smothering of benthic resources.”
It’s information that the FWC, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency haven’t shared with city officials in Atlantic Beach or Jacksonville.
″The mayors should speak about this. The Environmental Protection Agency in Florida should make this information accessible to the public,” Alfonso said.
Alfonso said that people of Puerto Rico who have reported being exposed to coal ash in their groundwater have reported heart and respiratory issues they fear are related to exposure.
He pointed out that the coal ash spilled from the barge is only about a mile offshore from Atlantic Beach and he believes the product could find its way to the shoreline.
Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser said she’s in contact with the DEP on a regular basis and she wants the public to be aware of what’s happening. She said she is examining what the city can do about notifying the public other than posting on the city’s website.
The DEP said it is collecting bottom accumulations and nearby background sediments for total analysis.