By Newport Waterfront Alliance

Toxic Chemicals Recently Found in Waites Wharf 

In the next few weeks, two decisions will be made that could have a major impact on the health of you and your family.

On August 3, at the Newport Planning Board Meeting at City Hall at 6:30 PM, a decision will be made on whether to approve a Demolition Permit to destroy buildings on Waites Wharf. In the next few weeks, the Rhode Island Department of Health will also decide on how to Remediate the toxic soil found on Waites Wharf.

A Site Investigation Report (SIR) was recently given to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) Office of Waste Management that found 12 toxic chemicals as deep as 7 to 12 feet in six soil borings on Waites Wharf. Some of these 12 toxic chemicals were arsenic, lead, and vinyl chloride (carcinogenic) above the limits of the State of Rhode Island Direct Exposure Criteria. The State investigation of the “Hazardous Materials” has called for a Remediation of the contaminated site in order to eliminate the threats to human health.

Where Did These Toxic Chemicals Come From?

The Newport Gas Company used to be on the Newport Harbor where the Wellington Resort is located now. They burned coal to make gas. Coal ash was left over after the gasification. Standard Oil and other companies on Waites Wharf were interested in extending Waites Wharf into the harbor. The coal ash was used as a fill along Waites Wharf. The coal ash is known to have arsenic, lead, cyanide and other toxic chemicals in the ash. Standard Oil used the wharf for petroleum storage. The Wharf also had blacksmiths, automotive repair garages, painting and welding companies that are responsible for the carcinogenic chemical vinyl chloride. 

In 1916, 1000 gallons of gasoline were leaked onto Waites Wharf and into Newport Harbor from a Texas Oil storage tank. This created a grave danger to other storage tanks on Waites Wharf such as Standard Oil. 1,000 gallons of gasoline seeped into Waites Wharf and contributed to its toxic chemicals.

Was this a Problem Anywhere Else?

A coal gasification plant in Fall River dumped its leftover coal ash in Tiverton, RI. Twenty years ago, 156 property owners in Tiverton found that their homes were built on a toxic waste site. They found the usual coal ash waste of arsenic, mercury, cyanide, lead, and other toxic chemicals under their homes. Their property was a public health hazard and became an economic disaster for them. One family had a daycare facility which had to close because the kids were not allowed to play in the yard because of the toxic chemicals there.

Public Comments are Being Solicited

Beginning this week, the State of Rhode Island is asking for public comments on the proposed Remediation Plan of the contaminated soil on Waites Wharf. Remediation is often to remove the top 2 feet of contaminated soil and capping the rest of the toxic waste, often 3 to 6 feet below.

On Waites Wharf, the problem is that these toxic wastes are at sea level in a high flood risk zone. With oceans and harbors rising and more serious storms expected to pound Waites Wharf, can these toxic wastes below the cap be let loose to pollute Newport Harbor and our surrounding neighborhoods with arsenic, lead, vinyl chloride, and cyanide with the other toxic wastes? Only the removal of all the toxic waste can assure us that our health is not threatened.  

New York and Boston have recently been flooded as ocean surges from storms have forced harbor water into their subways. We can expect these Newport Harbor surges with upcoming storms.

The Site Investigation Report (SIR) was a great beginning in investigating the health hazards of the toxic chemicals on Waites Wharf. Before we start Remediating the three sites studied that are 150 yards from the harbor and represent just 10% of all Waites Wharf, we need to conduct a Site Investigation Report (SIR) for the other 90% of Waites Wharf. This is the part of the wharf that received most of the coal ash fill. It was used to extend the wharf during the last century. 

We need you to respond during the public comment period on the state’s Remediation Plan. Please ask that all the polluted soil be removed and not take chances with our health with a capping. To receive a copy of the Remediation Plan, contact Joseph Martella of the State Office of Waste Management at his email The 250-page Site Investigation Report (SIR) is also available. 

Will Demolition Stir Up Toxic Chemicals on Waites Wharf?

The second major decision will be made by the Newport Planning Board on a Demolition Permit for the buildings on Waites Wharf near the harbor on August 3 at 6:30 PM. According to the Rhode Island Code of Ordinance 17.86.070, the Planning Board will assure that the “granting of a permit for a demolition is not detrimental to the public health, safety, and general welfare of the community.”

It has already been shown in the recent Site Investigation Report (SIR) of Waites Wharf that three areas with six soil borings have 12 toxic chemicals above the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management hazardous materials criteria. It is a hazardous area. The ten percent of Waites Wharf that was studied and polluted was 150 yards from the harbor. The buildings to be demolished are along the harbor. This area received a large amount of the coal ash fill that caused the arsenic, lead, cyanide and other toxic wastes. 

Before a Demolition Permit can be approved, we must ask the Planning Board to request a Site Investigation Report (SIR) of the 90% of Waites Wharf that has not yet been studied to see if it is also loaded with the same contaminated soil as found in the 10% of Waites Wharf that had the SIR.

The demolition process will loosen the soil around the six buildings, leaving the potentially toxic contaminated soil open to be washed into the harbor and into our neighboring properties. The dust from the demolition could also blow into the air all over this part of town. 

Residents of Newport need to have a Site Investigation Report (SIR) done before a Demolition Permit is approved. They need to let the Newport Planning Board know that they must have a SIR done before considering the dangers of a demolition process that threatens our health.

You can send your comments to the Newport Planning Board, City of Newport, 43 Broadway, Newport, RI 02840 and attend their meeting to consider a Demolition Permit. Thank you for your assistance and interest.

We could save Newport from a health disaster.

Committee to Protect the Health of Newport Residents from the Toxic Wastes Found on Waites Wharf, a part of the Newport Waterfront Alliance