National Grid moves to clean contaminants spilled into Seekonk River

·3 min read
A rendering of the proposed soccer stadium on the site of a former gas plant in Pawtucket.
A rendering of the proposed soccer stadium on the site of a former gas plant in Pawtucket.

PAWTUCKET — A National Grid site has twice spilled contaminants into the Seekonk River near the location of a planned soccer stadium, the Department of Environmental Management said Thursday.

DEM spokesman Michael Healey said National Grid will not be cited because the utility company immediately reported the latest incident, which occurred Wednesday, and moved to quickly remediate the first spill on Nov. 12.

The spill did cause a fish kill, probably smaller species such as yellow perch and blue gills. The extent of the spill wasn’t known. National Grid described the contaminants as coal tar oils.

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“This site is being remediated and readied for a soccer stadium,” Healey said. “National Grid is in the process of installing a new permanent hard cap on the site. During that process, the soil underneath was disturbed.”

What Healey described as a vaporous rainbow sheen was released into the river. A video posted on the social media site Reddit showed an oily film on the river near the banks on Nov. 12. On that date, a containment boom at the same site was damaged because of rough weather. Contaminants slipped outside the boom, a floating device designed to contain potentially toxic substances.

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“That’s when the Coast Guard and DEM first responded to this site,” Healey said. “We basically said they needed to improve the booms. My understanding is it was the same material that caused this rainbow sheen.”

National Grid hired outside contractors to clean up the spill Thursday.

But Sen. Megan E. Kallman, D-Pawtucket, said she notified the DEM on Thursday morning after getting a call about the spill from a constituent.

"DEM had been unaware of the spill and referred it to the Coastal Resources Management Council because the river is in the CRMC’s jurisdiction," Kallman stated in an email. "This is not how regulatory bodies or communities should ever, ever have to find out about oil spills — particularly when those spills are hazardous to human, animal and ecological health.

"Entities involved in remediation have the obligation to communicate clearly and promptly about this and any related issue," she said. "National Grid consummately failed to do so."

National Grid spokesman Ted Kresse said the utility contacted the DEM and the National Response Center immediately. "We are taking additional actions to limit any further impacts," he said, "including deploying more soft and hard booms and additional matting for absorption."

Kresse said National Grid this year began construction activities to remediate the Tidewater site in Pawtucket, which housed a former gas manufacturing plant that was shut down in 1968.

“Part of the remediation effort includes the removal of soil containing coal tar, a byproduct of the gas manufacturing process, from an area along the riverbank,” Kresse said. “While booms have been set up in the water to capture coal tar oils from being carried into the Seekonk River during the cleanup efforts, a portion of these oils breached the booms [Wednesday].

Healy said the release does not pose a threat to public health, and that the .DEM was to send a marine fisheries scientist to examine the spill Friday.

“It’s possible there will be spill material there [Friday],” Healey said. “We hope that’s not the case. We will instruct National Grid to strengthen the booms.”

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In 2009, National Grid installed a temporary hard cap over the site after a release of heavily contaminated soil along the riverfront, according to the DEM.

The $300-million Tidewater Landing project includes retail and office space.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Contaminants spill into Seekonk River from National Grid site

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