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Compiled by ecoRI News staff
Dec. 7. 2022

Two More Settlements Announced in R.I. MBTE Lawsuit

PROVIDENCE – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced Dec. 7 that his office has resolved the state’s lawsuit against two of the nation’s largest refiners of gasoline.

The state’s case, filed in September 2016, alleged that Coastal Corporation (Coastal) and British Petroleum (BP) – along with several other refiners – polluted Rhode Island’s soil and groundwater with the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE).

As a part of the settlement, Coastal ($940,000) and BP ($205,000 in principle) will pay the state a combined $1.145 million, which will be dedicated to emergency response and ongoing MTBE contamination remediation efforts by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). The attorney general’s office is responsible for overseeing the distribution and use of the settlement funds.

Rhode Island has previously entered into settlement agreements with other major refiners, totaling approximately $18.7 million, for their role in MTBE contamination, including: Shell, Sunoco, CITGO, Hess, Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA, Inc. (TPRI), Marathon, Conoco, Chevron, Irving, and Valero. The total amount recovered by Rhode Island from the MTBE litigation now totals more than $19.85 million.

Litigation against the single remaining major gas refinery in Rhode Island’s lawsuit, Exxon Mobil, remains ongoing.

For decades, MTBE has leaked from underground storage tanks such as those typically found at gas stations and contaminated groundwater and soils throughout the United States, including Rhode Island. Research shows that MTBE’s presence in drinking water, even at extremely low levels, could pose serious health risks. MTBE can give water a strong turpentine-like taste and odor, its removal is costly, and it is considered a probable human carcinogen. Rhode Island banned the use of MTBE in 2007, but MTBE continues to contaminate portions of groundwater throughout the state.

The state’s lawsuit alleges that the gas companies promoted, marketed, distributed, supplied, and sold gasoline and other petroleum products containing MTBE, when they knew, or reasonably should have known, that MTBE would be released into the environment and cause contamination in Rhode Island’s water supply – threatening public health and welfare.

“MBTE contamination of public water supplies poses a significant public health and safety risk, one which oil and gas companies knew about well before the public did,” said Attorney General Neronha. “The work to remediate contaminated water supplies continues, and the funds recovered to date, now totaling nearly $20 million, will be exclusively dedicated to doing that work.”

In 2012, a class action lawsuit resulted in a separate settlement with Exxon Mobile for $7 million, stemming from a 2001 MTBE contamination of Pascoag’s water supply. After MTBE was detected in Pascoag’s drinking water, the town’s only well was shut down, leaving residents without a supply of water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Levels of MTBE measured in a nearby bedrock aquifer reached concentrations up to 1,000 times higher than approved drinking water limits.


Nov. 29, 2022

MassDEP, Fall River Reach Agreement to Remove All Lead Service Lines

FALL RIVER, Mass. — The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the city have reached a settlement requiring the municipality to take stronger steps to remove lead service lines following a lead action level exceedance (ALE) during water quality testing conducted last year.

MassDEP will suspend a $25,300 penalty as long as the city fully complies with the requirements outlined in a consent order signed by both parties. The settlement will result in the replacement of all lead service lines in the city water distribution system, according to state officials.

In 2021, more than 10% of Fall River’s test samples found elevated levels of lead in its drinking water, resulting in an ALE — the city’s first lead exceedance since 2005. Under the state’s Drinking Water Regulations and the federal Lead and Copper Rule, when lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) in more than 10% of water samples, the system must undertake several additional actions to control corrosion, reduce exposure, and educate the public about the adverse health effects of lead in drinking water.

In Fall River’s case, such actions include submitting biweekly water quality data from the entry point to its distribution system and submitting to MassDEP a Lead Service Line Replacement (LSLR) plan.
Fall River reported to MassDEP that, as of June, it had about 3,700 known partial or full LSLs in its distribution system. The LSLR plan requires the city to replace at least 400 to 600 LSLs annually until all service lines are replaced, including all lines on city property as well as LSL connections on private property — at no cost to the property owner.

The settlement also requires the city to regularly report to MassDEP on its progress of replacing LSLs, and to submit an annual report outlining where LSLs were replaced during the previous year and where additional LSLs will be addressed. The city is expected to utilize local, state, and federal funding sources to implement the replacement plan, according to MassDEP.


Nov. 20, 2022

Rhode Island Nature Video Festival Accepting Entries

The Environment Council of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Natural History Survey are accepting submissions for the 2023 Rhode Island Nature Video Festival.

This is the fifth Rhode Island Nature Video Festival, and to accommodate public interest and participation that has grown with each edition, this year a team of “curators” will select from among all videos submitted about 50-60 minutes to show live Sunday, Feb. 26, at Providence College.

If more videos are submitted for the festival than will fit in that time, the rest will be made available online. The Feb. 26 audience will be asked to pick a best in show, and one or two other award winners. The planned in-person event could go online if COVID “pushes us in that direction,” according to organizers.

Many different styles of video are welcome, from a simple recording of an animal in action to a narrated and edited piece. Organizers are restricting the submissions to videos created since the last Nature Video Festival submission deadline, December 2021.

Videos must be submitted by Jan. 15 at 8 p.m. to be included. Only one video submission per person. Submit a video by emailing name, contact information, and a link to your video to gerritt@mindspring.com.


Nov. 17, 2022

Caged Worker Bees Living Half as Long as Observed 50 Years Ago

A new study by University of Maryland entomologists found that the lifespan for individual honeybees kept in a controlled laboratory environment is 50% shorter than it was in the 1970s. When scientists modeled the effect of today’s shorter lifespans, the results corresponded with the increased colony loss and reduced honey production trends seen by U.S. beekeepers in recent decades.

Colony turnover is an accepted factor in the beekeeping business, as bee colonies naturally age and die off. But over the past decade, U.S. beekeepers have reported high loss rates, which has meant having to replace more colonies to keep operations viable. In an effort to understand why, researchers have focused on environmental stressors, diseases, parasites, pesticide exposure, and nutrition.

This is the first study to show an overall decline in honeybee lifespan potentially independent of environmental stressors, hinting that genetics may be influencing the broader trends seen in the beekeeping industry. The study was published Nov. 14 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Although a laboratory environment is very different from a colony, historical records of lab-kept bees suggest a similar lifespan to colony bees, and scientists generally assume that isolated factors that reduce lifespan in one environment will also reduce it in another. Previous studies had also shown that in the real world, shorter honeybee lifespans corresponded to less foraging time and lower honey production. This is the first study to connect those factors to colony turnover rates.

The next steps for the researchers will be to compare trends in honeybee lifespans across the United States and in other countries. If they find differences in longevity, they can isolate and compare potential contributing factors such as genetics, pesticide use, and presence of viruses in the local bee stocks.


Nov. 16, 2022

Public Invited to Take Part in Shoreline Monitoring Program

New equipment at three Rhode Island coastal sites now enables the public to use smartphones to take photos that could help government collect data on climate change impacts such as flooding and erosion, and ultimately inform practical planning and projects to address them.

In the vein of “community scientist” education efforts, this program provides the state and a municipal cadre — the towns of Barrington, South Kingstown, and Westerly — an opportunity to engage communities in app-based shoreline monitoring.

Using the equipment — a cell phone cradle — that has been installed at the three coastal locations, people can take photos at the sites and upload them to CoastSnap, an app for online photo collection and crowdsourcing. The set cradle position at each site ensures that all photos are taken from the same view and can be combined into time-lapse video sequences showing shoreline change. Change can occur, for example, with flooding and erosion tied to strong storms, tides, and sea-level rise.

The public is welcome to participate as shoreline monitors by visiting the municipal CoastSnap sites: Latham Park in Barrington, East Matunuck State Beach in South Kingstown, and Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly. Instructional signage is on-site at each location to guide picture taking and uploading to CoastSnap, an online platform created by the University of New South Wales, Australia, and active in 22 countries.

Led by the University of Rhode Island, the Coastal Resources Center, and Rhode Island Sea Grant, both located at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, the project includes the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which serves as both state site provider and cradle installer. On the municipal level, Barrington, South Kingstown, and Westerly are taking part to bolster community education and evidence collection regarding coastal change.

Another shoreline monitoring app, MyCoastRI, supports the collection and sharing of smartphone photos depicting coastal change, including flooding, erosion, and marine debris. Partners for this work are Save The Bay, Clean Ocean Access, and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council.


Nov. 10, 2022

Increasing Access to Nature Rebuilds Biodiversity, Mitigates Climate Impacts

A new report from the Hispanic Access Foundation emphasizes the need to increase access to nature as a way to protect, conserve, and restore the natural world.

The report, released Nov. 10, comes at a time when momentum is building worldwide to address the climate crisis. The 32-page report establishes clear examples centered on restoring, regenerating, and conserving biodiversity while also increasing equitable access to nature and mitigating climate change.

Here are the 10 solutions presented in the report:

Indigenous land and water management. Evidence shows that when Indigenous communities have enforced rights and decision-making powers over their own lands, their traditional ecological knowledge and practices manage the lands and waters sustainably.

Greening urban space. With the increasing urbanization of the human population, solutions for nature access in urban contexts should be among the highest priorities for policymakers to hit the nexus of biodiversity, climate gains, and societal benefits. Cities are home to a surprising array of biodiversity.

Green infrastructure. Such infrastructure in nature-deprived communities provides an equitable, sustainable, and urban-appropriate alternative to stormwater and rain management that also provides economic and nature access benefits.

Parks and protected areas. The location of parks — or the lack thereof — is a major facet of inequitable access to nature. Increasing parkland where it is lacking is a powerful solution to bridging the gap in nature access.

Landscaping for biodiversity and natural resource conservation. The restructuring of backyards, homes, churches, hospitals, eldercare facilities, corporate and college campuses, parks, and even cemeteries is another important approach to increasing biodiversity, access to nature, and absorption of climate change-causing pollutants.

Cultivation: Urban gardens, food forests, and pollinators. Encouraging regenerative cultivation practices in developed areas is another way to facilitate nature access for underserved communities, while also reducing greenhouse gasses, improving biodiversity, and bringing access to nutritious food.

Agricultural and pastoral lands. While not densely populated like urban areas, the potential human benefits to these areas are important to consider for environmental justice reasons.

Clean waterways and watersheds. Access to clean waterways is a powerful lever for changes that restore biodiversity, provide access to nature, and ameliorate the climate crisis.

Healthy, accessible ocean and coasts. Only 10% of the U.S. coastline is covered by strong legal protections for public access.

Cleanup from oil and gas wells. Fossil fuel extraction, including new oil and gas leasing and permitting, is counterproductive to facilitating equitable access to nature.


Nov. 2. 2022

New Massachusetts Waste Disposal Regulations Target Mattresses, Food Scrap

New Massachusetts waste ban regulations, which went into effect Nov. 1, promote recycling and reuse, reduce trash disposal, and foster recycling business, according to state officials.

The regulations ban the disposal of mattresses and textiles in the trash, and decrease food waste from businesses and institutions. Massachusetts had a food-waste ban on businesses disposing 1 ton or more a week; the new regulations lowered that threshold to a half-ton.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection established a ban on disposal of food waste from businesses and institutions disposing of a ton or more weekly in 2014, which increased food-scrap diversion from 100,000 tons annually to more than 300,000 tons.

Textiles represent another important opportunity for Massachusetts to reduce its waste stream and capture valuable resources, according to state officials. More than year 200,000 tons of textiles are thrown into the state’s waste stream every year, including clothing, towels, linens, belts, and shoes.

State officials said more than 75% of mattresses can be effectively separated and recycled, including metal, wood, fabric, and padding. The state generates about 600,000 unwanted mattresses annually.


Oct. 31, 2022

‘Ploggers’ Snag 80 Pounds of Trash in Newport

NEWPORT, R.I. — In celebration of World Clean Up Day, the Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District (ERICD) recently partnered with Newport Run and Chug to remove 80 pounds of trash from city streets.

Plogging, the word for jogging (or walking) while picking up trash, is a movement that began in Sweden in 2016. This was the second time that ERICD and Newport Run and Chug worked together for a “Plog and Chug,” after a successful plogging event during Earth Month in April. Starting at The Fastnet Pub, the plogging group split up to cover more ground, then after a half-hour of plogging everyone returned to the pub. Each plogger also received a specialty plogging pint glass as a thank you for removing plastic pollution from the environment.

ERICD works to promote and improve long-lasting and environmentally friendly practices that protect natural resources. According to Jessica Cullinan, ERICD board member, “As they say, many hands make light work — and that was truly reflected in this event. Many ploggers recounted their plogs with phrases such as ‘We didn’t find that much trash,’ ahead of weighing the impressive 80 pounds of trash collected. Every small effort to help our environment makes a difference, especially when we work together toward the same goals.”


Oct. 20, 2022

Study: PFAS Pervasive in U.S. Waterways, Including in Ocean State

A national study has found that 84% of the nation’s waterways contained at least one per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substance, including some Rhode Island sites.

The Waterkeeper Alliance tested 114 water bodies, including some in the Ocean State.  

PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” are found in firefighting foams, food packaging and waterproof clothing, and are linked to several cancers, fertility issues, and developmental delays in children

PFAS were found in the Pawtucket River, Buckeye Brook, Mastuxet Brook, and Spring Green Pond, according to the report. Spring Green Pond in Warwick tested highest for overall PFAS concentration, at 76.4 parts per trillion (ppt), and for each individual chemical. The Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level for PFAS in drinking water is 70 ppt.

Graphic from Waterkeeper Alliance

There are currently no groundwater or surface water PFAS minimums in Rhode Island, but the state will have to adopt minimums by the end of 2023. A drinking water standard of less than 20 ppt for total PFAS composition will start in July 2023.

Overall, Rhode Island ranked in the top two for highest PFAS concentrations in the Northeast Region, behind Pennsylvania.

The Rhode Island waterways were tested by Save The Bay waterkeepers, who are a part of the national alliance. Of the six samples taken for testing, all contained PFAS, according to the report.

PFAS levels in other regions tested much higher than Rhode Island. The highest sample was from Piscataway Creek in Maryland, which had a PFAS concentration of 1,364.7 ppt.

“This is likely the most extensive survey of PFAS presence in surface waters that has ever been conducted in the U.S.,” according to statement from the Waterkeeper Alliance. “The results reveal the widespread proliferation of these toxic chemicals.”


Oct. 13, 2022

Providence Land Bank Seeks to Turn Vacant Properties into Affordable Housing

PROVIDENCE — City officials announced Thursday the creation of the Providence Neighborhood Land Bank, a new program overseen by the Providence Redevelopment Agency and funded by the Providence Housing Trust, that will acquire, hold, and transfer vacant land throughout the city with a goal of building new affordable housing.

The land bank will acquire and hold parcels until they can be activated through requests for proposals to qualified developers.

“Bold policies and funding are needed to address the housing crisis in Rhode Island and nationwide,” Mayor Jorge Elorza said. “The Providence Neighborhood Land Bank program is an important step in finding creative solutions to transform neighborhoods and prioritizing land for those who need it most.”

The land bank is designed to reduce barriers to redevelopment, such as site control and pre-development costs. The Providence Redevelopment Agency will support the land bank program by releasing pre-approved, fully permitted small home plans prepared by local architects, at no cost to developers, to be paired with available lots.

“We all know of an abandoned property or vacant lot in our neighborhoods that could be transformed into safe, affordable places to live,” said Providence City Council member Rachel Miller, who represents Ward 13.

The Providence Neighborhood Land Bank announcement comes a year after the city released its Anti-Displacement and Comprehensive Housing Strategy, a 10-year blueprint for affordable housing production, housing policy, and regulatory actions.

A crucial component of the land bank is the opportunity for community members and stakeholders to nominate vacant plots of land for consideration and incorporation into the program. The Providence Redevelopment Agency is asking members of the Providence community to submit suggestions for the land bank via email to LandBank@providenceri.gov. From there, depending on viability, the sites will be entered into a database of vacant, abandoned, and dilapidated property. Once a property has been screened to make sure it conforms with the acquisition policies, such as zoning, lot size, and suitability of the lot for housing, the program will utilize of one of many tools by which it can acquire property.

For more information about the land bank program, go to the city’s website.

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