Maximiliano Calcaño is 2 and was born with no arms. Maximiliano’s mother, Anajai Calcaño, lives in a small house with no indoor plumbing in a rural village in northern Dominican Republic, not far from where coal ash generated by Virginia-based AES Corp. wound up at the edge of the sea.
More than 50,000 tons of coal ash laden with heavy metals was left at a port abutting local homes for years while the company, politicians, prosecutors, environmental activists and bureaucrats argued — and residents got sick.
It has been six years since a contractor from Delray Beach brought the black dusty residue to the province of Samaná, and three years since the ash was cleaned up. Several civil lawsuits and criminal cases later, just when everyone thought it was over, the other shoe has dropped.
A civil lawsuit filed in Delaware charges that toxic levels of waste dumped at the Arroyo Barril port has made people nearby sick. After years of repeated miscarriages, women whose blood levels show abnormal levels of arsenic are giving birth to babies with cranial deformities, with organs outside their bodies or missing limbs.
The case highlights the debate over coal ash, an unregulated byproduct of coal energy, which when processed and recycled is used in everything from cement to the foundation for golf courses.
The ash, a concentrated form of naturally occurring contaminants, is what is left over from burning coal for power. It usually contains arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium and nickel.
The suit against AES seeks unspecified compensation for seven clients and medical monitoring for the entire neighborhood.
Arroyo Barril’s stories are startling. Altagracia Maldonado keeps her grandchild’s deformed fetus in a jar for safekeeping. Her neighbor, Maribel Mercedes, gave birth to a two-headed baby who died after a few hours. Daniela Altagracia, a 5-year-old, is going bald.
The alarms started ringing here in 2003, when 10,000-ton barges showed up at the port loaded with black rock. The rocks were the moistened residue from a coal-burning plant in Puerto Rico owned by AES. The Puerto Rican government was pressuring AES to rid the island of the mounds of ash that had stockpiled, so AES hired Delray Beach contractor Roger C. Fina to get the ash off its hands.
Fina and AES were sued by the Dominican Republic in federal court. AES paid $6 million to clean up the site and settle the claim.
Robert Vance, who filed the suit with Steve Phillips of New York and Ian Conat of Wilmington, Del., sent medical experts to the town.
“Over 1,000 people got sick,” said Vance, who accompanied The Miami Herald on a visit to the area. “We tested 42 people, and more than half of those tested had abnormal, unsafe levels of arsenic in their blood.”
For now, they are representing only severe cases, although he said hundreds complained of rashes and allergies.
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