More Penalties for Stinky Providence Oil Tank Facility
June 13, 2020
A chronic polluter in Providence and across New England is close to a settlement with the Department of Justice, but the deal isn’t sitting well with one environmental group.
In a proposed agreement, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is fining New Hampshire-based Sprague Operating Resources LLC $350,000 for excessive emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil tanks at facilities in Providence; Everett, Quincy, and New Bedford, Mass.; Searsport and South Portland, Maine; and Newington, N.H. The settlement also requires Sprague to take measures to reduce air pollution at each facility.
If the deal is approved, the Sprague tank facility on Allens Avenue in Providence would only be allowed to store asphalt in three heated tanks. No. 6 residual fuel would be prohibited from the waterfront site. The facility also would be limited to receiving and storing 90 million gallons of asphalt annually. Similar restrictions are being ordered at the six other New England facilities where Sprague has committed pollution violations.
Of the $350,000 settlement, $205,000 goes to the federal government and $145,000 to Massachusetts.
The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) says the punishment is too light and will do little to improve air quality for people subject to toxic pollution from the company’s storage of oil and other substances.
“We need to hold polluters accountable with stronger enforcement that includes higher penalties and strict compliance measures,” said Heather Govern, director of CLF’s clean air and water program.
The deal, endorsed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, must first fulfill a 30-day public comment period. Comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by July 6. Additional details of the settlement can be found on the DOJ website.
Based in Portsmouth, N.H., Sprague buys, stores, distributes, and sells refined petroleum products and natural gas. Sprague operates 20 shipping and storage terminals in the Northeast. The company didn’t reply to a request for comment.
The DOJ settlement focuses on reducing illegal emissions of VOCs, and mandates that the company obtain pollution permits for facilities in Massachusetts. The federal agreement is separate from an ongoing effort by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the attorney general to stanch odor problems emitting from the Sprague tanks near the Interstate 95 and Interstate 195 interchange in Providence.
“EPA has provided some technical support in those efforts but is not a party to the DEM enforcement action,” an agency spokesperson wrote in an email to ecoRI News.
Both enforcement actions relate to chronic air pollution violations measured during inspections of heated storage tanks containing No. 6 heavy residual fuel oil and asphalt. Last August, an odor-control system was installed at the Providence facility. A permit is pending for this and other equipment.
Sprague is still appealing a $22,500 fine issued by DEM for odor complaints that began in September 2017. The most recent complaint of odors from the site was made June 4, according to DEM.
These pollution problems underscore the dangerous health implications for frontline environmental justice communities such as Washington Park and other neighborhoods in South Providence where beleaguered housing stock and outdoor air pollution have been linked to asthma, lung cancer, and respiratory, cardiac, and neurological diseases.
VOCs create ground-level ozone (smog) and can cause throat and lung irritation, headaches, nausea, organ damage, and cancer.
The public can report future odor irregularities in the South Providence area to DEM’s Office of Compliance and Inspection at 401-222-1360, or 401-222-3070 after 4 p.m. Complaints can also be filed via email at DEM.Compliance2@dem.ri.gov.