Emergency funds to protect public health along Woonasquatucket River

The US EPA is to make US$1million (864,380 euros) available to protect public health and the environment from dioxin contamination in the Woonasquatucket River in Rhode Island while the EPA, the state and the community develop a long-term Action Plan to remedy the problem.

The announcement comes after two environmental groups, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Clean Water Action (CWA), filed legal petitions alleging that EPA’s New England office had failed to take proper steps to protect public health.

PEER and CWA had released EPA documents showing that dioxin concentrations in the River are the second highest in the world (see last week’s story). Dioxin, a chemical by-product of manufacturing processes involving chlorine, can cause cancer, reproductive system damage and other health problems among those exposed to it.

EPA preliminary sampling results show elevated dioxin levels in three locations alongside Woonasquatucket River, with the highest levels being found at the Centredale Manor elderly housing property in North Providence. High levels were also found behind the Allendale and Lymansville dams, where residents fish, and which lie close to residential neighbourhoods, including a children’s baseball field.

“By funding these actions today, the EPA, the state and the community will be in a better position to protect public health and the environment in that area next spring, when the possibility of human exposure to contaminated areas is greater,” said Carol M. Browner, Administrator of the EPA on January 20, 1999.

The EPA and Rhode Island will spend the money on sampling in and along the river, public awareness campaigns highlighting dioxin contamination and on restricting public access to contaminated areas.

The EPA has begun additional sampling in the riverbank area, including the Centredale property and the Lee Romano baseball field and the Boys and Girls Club property, all in North Providence. More comprehensive sampling will be done in February and March.

A Management Action Committee, made up of community leaders, state officials, federal health experts and EPA staff, is being formed this week to help guide the overall investigation and contribute to an Action Plan which will provide Rhode Island residents with long-term protection from dioxin contamination in the river.

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