- The report reveals that the contamination reaches a large part of the Dominican Republic, all of Haiti and the coasts of Cuba and Jamaica.
- The health impacts of pollution are expected to increase the number of premature deaths and disease among vulnerable populations.
- In the Dominican Republic alone, the economic cost of these effects is estimated at US$ 7.5 million per year, including hospital bills and sick leave.
The reports first recommendation is the immediate closure of the Punta Cataline power plant (Dominican Republic). The study analyzed the last 6 months of the environmental impact of this facility, in which the International Institute for Law and the Environment (IIDMA) has collaborated as an external consultant. This work is part of a series of projects that IIDMA has developed in support of energy transition in Latin America.
The study, carried out by the National Committee for the Fight against Climate Change, the Institute of Lawyers for the Protection of the Environment and representatives of the province of Peravia, reveals that the pollution from the Punta Catalina power plant affects a large part of Dominican territory, all of Haiti and the coasts of Cuba and Jamaica. The main pollutants that have reached these regions are nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, as well as coal ash, acid and mercury.
The research, carried out with the support of the Finnish Center for Energy and Air Quality Research (CREA), proposes different pollution scenarios with different degrees of impact on human health and their respective economic cost. In the worst-case scenario, the study projects that the Dominican Republic will face 57 premature deaths per year; 2,473 premature deaths for 30 years of the plant’s operation; 13,896 days of sick leave, a total of 530,341 days by 2050; and 125 years lived with disabilities which will reach a total of 5,399 years by 2051.
The study states that in Haiti the impacts are even greater due to cross-border pollution caused by the country’s wind direction, terrain and climate conditions. For Haiti, the estimated impact is 127 premature deaths per year, 4,655 sick days, and 418 years lived with disabilities. The report claims that the accuracy of these numbers is 95%.
The report lists diabetes, ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, lower respiratory tract infections and other chronic diseases as causes of premature deaths. A high rate of asthma in children and premature/low-birth weights are also cited as an effect of pollution.
All these health impacts have an economic cost, including hospital bills and decreases in work productivity. It is estimated that this cost, in the Dominican Republic alone, is equivalent to US$7.5 million per year. In the worst-case scenario, however, this cost could reach US$30.1 million per year, equivalent to US$1.23 billion over a 30-year operating life of Punta Catalina.
“To safeguard respect for human rights, such as the right to health, it is essential to intensify the fight against climate change and air pollution. The study demonstrates how the health and quality of life of thousands of citizens in the Dominican Republic and Haiti is being affected by the Punta Catalina thermal power plant. Therefore, to avoid the impacts associated with pollution from this plant, it is urgent to take all necessary measures, including scheduling its closure,” said Carlota Ruiz-Bautista, IIDMA’s lawyer.
The country’s largest coal-fired power plant, with no possibility of restructuring
The Punta Catalina Thermoelectric Plant is the largest coal-fired power plant in the country, with a capacity of 752 megawatts. The combustion of coal is one of the main causes of greenhouse gases, it also creates a high risk of contamination of other natural resources, such as soil and groundwater.
The option of replacing coal with natural gas is out of the question, the report concludes, due to the current world energy crisis triggered by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, gas is scarce and the price is very high.
Therefore, the study calls for the permanent closure of the plant and suggests that, in order to cause the least possible stress to the electric supply, the economy and the democratic governance of the country, it should be carried out within a non-extendable period of 18 months, during which the Government should replace all – or a large part – of the 752 megawatts generated by Punta Catalina with renewable energies.
Effects on agriculture and biodiversity
In addition to atmospheric pollution, the study points out that the large amount of lime contained in Punta Catalina’s waste may also alter the pH of the soil, reducing the productivity of the land. In fact, the report notes that crops in the vicinity of the plant have already been affected, especially papaya, melon and tomatoes.
On another note, the study states that the construction of a breakwater on the coal port of the power plant has changed the direction of the tide and marine currents resulting in the erosion of the coast and the loss of Sabana Uvero de Paya beach.
The report also blames the plant for the loss of marine life to the west of the breakwater, as a result of the sedimentation on the seabed with debris from the destroyed breakwater, coal shavings falling from the ships transporting it, and the discharge of hot water into the sea a short distance from the coast.
Carlota Ruiz-Bautista, environmental lawyer at IIDMA (video in Spanish)