Public Health & Recreation

Oil Spilled Into Seekonk River from Pawtucket Brownfield Project

Remediation workers from National Grid work on cleaning up the coal tar oil that spilled into the Seekonk River from the Tidewater Landing project. (Rob Smith/ecoRI News)

Property owner National Grid confirmed to ecoRI News on Dec. 2 that while remediating the site for a multiuse soccer stadium, oil had breached booms set up in the water to contain it, giving the surrounding waters a rainbow sheen. It was unknown at the time of publication the extent of the spill and how much of the surrounding area will be impacted, but pictures posted on social media Thursday morning by Uprise RI show dead fish washed up onshore.

The future site of Pawtucket’s soccer stadium is one of Rhode Island’s oldest brownfields. The Pawtucket Gas Co. started manufacturing coal into gas in 1881. In 1954, natural gas arrived into Rhode Island via pipelines, and the site just off Taft Street produced oilgas until decommissioning in 1968. The byproducts of these industrial processes are what is spilling into the Seekonk River.

National Grid installed a temporary hard cap in 2009 to try and contain the pollution. The multinational corporation was working to install a permanent hard cap, but disturbed soil under the temporary cap that resulted in the spills.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) was informed of the spill on the morning of Dec. 1. National Grid said it also contacted the Environmental Protection Agency. National Grid is not expected to receive a penalty from the spills.

“It was clear they needed to install more hard boom and soft booms,” DEM spokesperson Mike Healey said.

National Grid is expected to extend the boom line several hundred feet to contain any future spills caused by its remediation work.

This week’s spill was the second at the Tidewater Landing site this fall. DEM confirmed to ecoRI News that it had received complaints of oil spillage on Nov. 12, when booms were “roughed up” by bad weather earlier in the month. Photographer Alex Hornstein shot video of the November spill.

DEM said it told National Grid to improve the booming to protect against that kind of release. It also will be sending staff to confirm wildlife impacts from the latest spill.

In a prepared statement, National Grid wrote, “We are taking additional actions to limit any further impacts, including deploying more soft and hard booms and additional matting for absorption.”

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