Charles L. Donahue released the following press release on behalf of the “Committee to Protect the health of Newport Residents from the Toxic Wates Found on Waites Wharf”.

I recently talked with a retired senior executive who was with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the 1970s and 80s and asked him his thoughts on the toxic wastes recently found on Waites Wharf. He said there were a lot of similarities with the Love Canal environmental disaster in upstate New York.

Love Canal

Love Canal was one of the worst health and environmental tragedies in U.S. history. The Love Canal was meant to be a model community near Niagara Falls, NY. The housing community never developed and the Canal was turned into a chemical waste dumpsite during World War II. The Hooker Chemical Company that polluted the Love Canal covered the Canal with earth and clay that was supposed to cap and keep the hazardous waste buried forever. The chemical company sold it to the city for one dollar.

Around 100 homes were later built on the canal with a school. After the soil was disturbed, a record amount of rain fell. Eleven carcinogenic chemicals including benzene percolated upward through the soil and clay and leaked their contents into the yards of the homes. Soon they discovered miscarriages, birth defects, and leukemia occurring to the residents. The EPA declared it an environmental disaster. All of the families had to be removed from their homes.

Tiverton, RI

The Fall River Gas Company burned coal to produce gas. They dumped the coal ash waste in Tiverton just as Newport Gas Company dumped coal ash on Waites Wharf from 1910 to 1980. The coal ash waste in both places had arsenic, cyanide, lead, and mercury, all cancer-causing toxic chemicals.

In 2002, a purple soil was found on Bay Street during a sewer line construction job. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management documented that the toxic chemicals were found beneath 100 properties. The residents were told they could not go out into their back yards. They were on a toxic waste site. Over ninety property owners filed four law suits against Southern Union Gas Company, the new owner of the Fall River Gas Company. They were awarded $12 million to remove some of the toxic chemicals from their properties. They suffered huge economic losses.

Waites Wharf

The Site Investigation Report (SIR) of 2020 found in the six borings on 10% of Waites Wharf coal ash (arsenic, lead, vinyl chloride, and benzene) chemicals above the Rhode Island Method 1 Residential Standard. This means the toxic chemicals are above what the state of Rhode Island considers safe and a remediation is necessary. These are all carcinogens causing cancer. The coal ash was dumped from 1920 to 1950 by Newport Gas. A 20,000-gallon oil spill and the 1,000-gallon gasoline spill from Standard Oil and 5 other storage tanks on Waites Wharf added the vinyl chloride and benzene product to the soil.

Waites Wharf has the greatest number of toxic chemicals of all three waste sites above the state standard for toxic wastes. All 15 toxic chemicals are among the greatest number ever found in one site.

Similarities

The knowledge of the health and environmental hazards were not fully appreciated when the pollution occurred.

The EPA and the Rhode Island Department of Environment Management (RIDEM) were not around when toxins began to be dumped in Love Canal, Tiverton, and Waites Wharf, Newport.

The EPA and the RIDEM both became involved in documenting the toxins at the Love Canal and Tiverton and helped the homeowners as best they could. They could only help after the fact of people building on these waste dumps.

The Love Canal and Tiverton properties suffered a huge economic loss. The property values became worthless.

Polluters didn’t know they were polluting and the dangers to the health, environment, and economy of the region. Fall River Gas didn’t know of the environmental, health, and economic disaster they were creating for Tiverton, RI when they dumped coal ash (arsenic, cyanide, and lead). Newport Gas didn’t realize the coal ash they were dumping on Waites Wharf was carcinogenic. The Hooker Chemical Company didn’t know in World War II the chemicals they dumped were toxic.

Differences

The EPA has warned that although many toxic waste landfills have been closed, many are still “ticking time bombs”. We need to understand if Waites Wharf is a “ticking time bomb”. Love Canal and Tiverton were time bombs that went off.

The major difference is that we have the chance to prevent the potential disaster on Waites Wharf.

The major toxic chemical at Love Canal was benzene. At Tiverton it was coal ash (arsenic, cyanide, and lead). Waites Wharf has both of these toxic chemicals plus vinyl chloride, all toxic carcinogenic chemicals.

The major worry of water at Love Canal and Tiverton was the percolation up of the toxic chemicals from heavy rain. This also is a problem with Waites Wharf. The greater water problem is that Waites Wharf is it is at sea level on a high risk flood plain. The expected rising oceans, nor’easter storms, expected surges, and hurricanes will spread the up to 12 feet deep of toxic chemicals throughout the hundreds of homes and businesses in the Fifth Ward and Thames Street.

The greatest threat from water and Waites Wharf is coming from climate change scientists. The oceans and harbors are rising. The nor’easters and hurricanes will be more violent. (Grand Bahamas last year – 175 MPH for 24 hours) (predicted 10-15’ surges in Louisiana in August 2020). Storm surges have recently put harbor water into the subways of New York city and Boston. Twenty years ago, Hurricane Bob had 5-8 foot surges in Newport and 100 MPH winds. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has placed the 5th Ward and Thames Street on its high risk area for storm surges and flooding. The Fifth Ward and Thames Street are the neighbors of Waites Wharf.

Toxic Chemicals

The real threat from Waites Wharf is not the spread of water but the spread of toxic chemicals in the water. Arsenic, cyanide, lead, vinyl chloride, and benzene products in homes, basements, stores, restaurants, pubs, and hotels will create a health, economic, and environmental disaster.

We first must do a Site Investigation Report (SIR) on all of Waites Wharf, not just the 10% done in 2020. Second, we must develop a plan to remove the toxic chemicals on Waites Wharf before they have the chance to spread.

These toxic chemicals have already been found above the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Residential Method I Direct Exposure Criteria on at least 10% of Waites Wharf. These chemicals will never leave.

The risk of Waites Wharf is to:

§  Health – all the chemicals found are cancer causing and dangerous when spread to homes and businesses

§  Environment – Waites Wharf is on the harbor and has already polluted Newport Harbor

§  Economy – Could make hundreds of homes and businesses in the Fifth Ward and Thames Street worthless if flooded with toxic chemicals.

–          Destroying the businesses on Waites Wharf could affect the tourist industry if businesses could not recover from the toxic contamination.

The RI Department of Environmental Management’s recent Site Investigation Report (SIR) has given Newport the chance to avoid the environmental, health, and economic catastrophe that couldn’t be prevented at Love Canal and Tiverton by documenting the pollution.

We need to have a Site Investigation Report (SIR) done on the 90% of Waites Wharf that has not been studied in modern times. We need to see if the entirety of Waites Wharf is an EPA Superfund Site and needs a serious intervention.

The time bomb is ticking.

Charles L. Donahue

Committee to Protect the Health of Newport Residents from the Toxic Wastes Found on Waites Wharf

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