Friday, October 7, 2011

Rhode Island Superfund Site in Crosshairs of Final Remediation

Woonasquatucket River
Residents in Providence, Rhode Island recently were informed of the latest contamination issues and potential cleanup costs along the Woonasquatucket River watershed, according to this article in the Providence Journal's online edition. The area is a Superfund site largely because a chemical company and drum recycler that operated there from the 1940s through the 1970s.

The contaminants include dioxins, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, heavy metals and others. The site includes a little bit more than nine acres and it is currently the home to two housing facilities, both of which are subsidized to rent under the U.S. Housing and Urban Developments' low income housing program. Today, both housing facilities cater to senior citizens and their addresses, 2072 and 2074 Smith Street, are collectively known as the Centredale Manor Restoration Project Superfund site.

It wasn't until 1996 that fish taken from the river showed dioxin contamination. An investigation followed that identified the contaminants in soil, sediment, groundwater of the wetlands and surface water. This watershed has supported human and animal life for centuries and although the river itself is barely 19 miles long the watershed covers 50 square miles, according to the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council. Where the river drains into Narragansett Bay it meets the ocean salt water. Woonasquatucket means "the place where the salt water ends." In the late 1700s it was the Woonasquatucket's narrowness and fast flowing water that determined its industrial legacy. Beginning with a textile mill in 1809 the river's banks supported five more cotton mills by 1813. Mills kept piling on until "nearly every foot of the river's drop was being used to turn a factory water wheel." But it was steam power that ushered in the watershed's most active period of industrialization. Machine tool makers, hand tool makers, textile millers, machinery makers, rubber products manufacturers, jewelry makers and manufacturers of steam engines and locomotives filled the area. Then the chemical industry moved in.

In 1982, 400 drums with contaminants were removed from the property under the direction of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. That same year 6,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil was removed and disposed of as non-hazardous waste. At one time, groundwater contamination was found at more than two-thirds of the 37 monitoring wells. At nearby Allendale Pond the fish and wildlife were contending with pollution 1,000 times the acceptable level. Over the years, some areas have been capped and upgrades to those caps are now being considered. Since 1999, the EPA has rounded up 18 potentially responsible parties who have participated in various portions of the ongoing cleanup. The owners of the housing developments have also paid settlements to date of almost $4 million.

Now, with public comment, the EPA and the RIDEM must decide what final remediation actions, (42MB PDF), will be taken. The options range from natural recovery to containment to full and partial removal to treatment in place to disposal or a combination of actions depending upon the specific area being remediated. A decision is expected in autumn of 2011.

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