Dominican town blames U.S. power company AES for birth defects

ARROYO BARRIL, Dominican Republic -- Maximiliano Calcaño is 2 and was born with no arms.

``When I was pregnant, I was dizzy, vomiting and could barely walk,'' said Maximiliano's mother, Anajai Calcaño, 20. ``My tooth cracked and fell out. Then my baby was born like that, without arms. Nothing like that had ever happened here before.''

By ``before,'' Calcaño means before a U.S. power company's coal ash arrived at a nearby port, sitting there for more than two years.

She lives in a small wooden 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 Wednesday 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. Popular Mechanics magazine this month calls a concrete made from coal ash one of the ``10 Most Brilliant Products of 2009.''

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. But as towns in Tennessee and Maryland clean up massive spills of the substance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is poised to rule on whether it should be classified as hazardous -- which would be a tremendous blow to influential power companies that have long lobbied against such a classification.

Coal recycling is big business. Some 131 million tons was used in 2007, up from less than 90 million tons in 1990, The New York Times reported.

Wednesday's 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.

``Last year in November, there were four cases of children born deformed,'' said Eduard Ortíz, the town doctor. ``In one month, I saw two ectopic pregnancies -- when the baby is in the fallopian tubes. You see one today, another tomorrow, and start to ask yourself, `What's happening?' ''

Ortíz whipped out his cellphone to show his photo of a baby he delivered that afternoon. The grainy picture showed a grossly misshapen face...... read full story and watch video of deformed children


Another story,

 Operation Begins on Two-Headed Baby Born In Santo Domingo

Go back | Date: 06 Nov 2009
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