Arecibo-area residents got their chance to express their concerns about the waste-to-energy incinerator project that New York-based Energy Answers is proposing to build in their neighborhood during an informative meeting that drew heavy participation this week.
A handful of them took the opportunity to present their opposition to the $500 million waste processing plant, pointing out the potential contamination risks to the air that could lead to deadly consequences.
“Arecibo can not take any more contamination. We have a landfill that pollutes and fails, a battery plant that also failed and pollutes our town, and now they also want to build an incinerator. Who’s to say that it will comply?” said Jessica Seigle, an Arecibo resident and head of the Zero Trash Committee that heads a grassroots recycling effort.
She was one of several neighbors who showed up at the hearing clad in black T-shirts and wearing face masks with hand-written messages on them, including “cancer,” “asthma,” and “dioxins,” referring to the potential problems that could be associated with the plant’s operation down the road.
Energy Answers’ proposed project, known as the Arecibo Puerto Rico Renewable Energy Project, will be capable of receiving up to 2,100 tons of waste per day to convert it into biofuel. At present, there are about 30 landfills on the island, most with limited lifespans left.
During the session, environmental chemist Osvaldo Rosario questioned “the math,” saying it “made no sense when they say they’re going to burn 2,100 tons of waste per day and will only generate 400 tons of ash.”
“Does that mean the remaining 1,700 tons will come out of the chimney? Matter is neither destroyed nor created. Garbage is full of material that when burned, becomes toxins. Something doesn’t add up here,” he said.
Meanwhile, Energy Answers’ environmental advisors said to be pleased with the broad citizen participation during Wednesday night’s meeting hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency — which already gave the plant a preliminary go-ahead — saying the support is there.
“We’re pleased with the public meeting and the support we got from Arecibo residents who publicly expressed their support of the plant proposed by Energy Answers,” said ecologist Alexis Molinares, environmental advisor to the company.
He said the four-hour meeting “was a great opportunity to clear up doubts and questions regarding the EPA’s preliminary air permit had by the Arecibo community.”
“Last night [Wednesday] it was made clear by the EPA to the community that the technology proposed by Energy Answers is safe for the residents of Arecibo and Puerto Rico and that it will comply with stricter U.S. air standards,” said Rafael Toro, chemical engineer and environmental lawyer for Energy Answers.
Earlier this month, the EPA determined the project meets stringent air standards in place to protect human health and the environment, granting it a preliminary air permit. Toro said that approval was a “great step” toward achieving appropriate solid waste management on the island.
This week’s session is the latest in a string of more than 100 meetings Energy Answers has had with Arecibo community residents. So far, the company has obtained more than 5,000 signatures from residents who endorse the project, Energy Answers officials said.