Imagine if two gallons of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), a probable human carcinogen considered dangerous at levels exceeding 500 parts per million, were sprayed randomly over a neighborhood on the East Side of Providence, or in a nice section of East Greenwich. What do you imagine the reaction of the state agencies charged with assessing the environmental and health effects of such accidents to be?
Suppose such a leak occurred in South Providence? If you imagine the official state reactions to be different, you are beginning to understand environmental racism.
The Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) have seemingly done no investigation into the health or environmental effects of the Allens Avenue gas pipeline rupture that occurred on March 29, a leak that sprayed two gallons of PCBs over the South Side of Providence, near the hospitals.
In response to an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request for “all records, communications, and reports, including data requests and testing results” having to do with the leak, Joseph Wendelken, public information officer for DOH responded, “The Rhode Island Department of Health does not have any documents responsive to your request,” adding, “RIDOH did not investigate, or is not investigating, the gas leak that we discussed.”
Jenna McIntyre, senior environmental scientist for DEM, in response to an identical request, sent one document, an emergency response report from the night of the incident. The report, from Raymond Meunir, shows that DEM had someone at the site while the gas leak was active, for just over two hours. There was no follow up and the case is considered closed.
Tim Faulkner, writing for ecoRI news, revealed that the leak “released about 19 million cubic feet of natural gas, or enough natural gas to heat and keep the lights on for 190,000 homes for a single day” and “about 2 gallons of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were also released, in the form of contaminated natural-gas condensate, according to the Department of Environmental Management (DEM).”
DEM did not release this same information to this reporter, despite the APRA request and earlier requests for such information in person at their offices.
Though the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) continues to monitor the repair of the pipeline, the environmental and health effects of this natural gas leak on the surrounding community have not been investigated.
Monica Huertas, from the No LNG in PVD campaign is demanding that the Department of Health conduct a thorough health impact report on the recent gas explosion three-quarters of a mile from her home. “I want to know what was in that gas and what are the effects from breathing in that gas,” said Huertas.
Kate Aubin, environmental justice committee co-chair of Sierra Club Rhode Island, writes, “It is unacceptable that both the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Management have remained silent on the recent National Grid / Spectra natural gas accident of March 28th and the subsequent leaks that have been occurring throughout the city. The message is clear that the health and safety of the people of South Providence and Washington Park are being ignored by our state agencies and the elected officials whose responsibility it is to hold those agencies accountable. All the while National Grid is trying to spend $180 million dollars of rate payer money to dangerously and unnecessarily expand their operations at the port. That project is another glaring example of DEM neglecting their responsibility and allowing National Grid to endanger our communities without oversight. Fracked natural gas is unsafe and we need to stop expansion of proposed projects that would further endanger RI communities and prioritize keeping our most impacted communities safe. That safety begins with thorough investigations into the incidents that have occurred and the failing infrastructure that is already in place.”
There has been no response to requests for comments from Governor Gina Raimondo’s office.
Here’s the 2017-03-29 DEM Gas leak report of Raymond Meunier, of DEM’s Office of Emergency Response:
“[Providence Fire Department] called to request assistance with a large gas release on Allens Avenue. Providence FD was setting up AreaRaes [Transportable, wireless multi-gas monitors] and other monitoring devices within the City. The FD and [Providence Police Department] had already shut down [Interstate] 195 because the ramps were immediately above the gas release. I responded to the scene and assisted [Deputy Assistant Chief Curt] Varone and [Battalion Chief Thomas] Cassin with setting up the monitors and the computer system. Several AreaRaes were placed down wind from the release on Allens Avenue. The wind was blowing from the North all the time of the incident, this was putting the gas primarily over [Narragansett Bay].
“Area monitors were set up at the Command Post just north of the incident, at the terminus of Public Street off Allens Avenue, and along the water’s edge at ProvPort off Terminal Road. All devices were monitored from the Command Post until National Grid personal could stop the gas release. National Grid was able to cease the gas leak around 10:45 PM through the closing of valves in the area.
“Once the gas leak was stopped, the highway was monitored to ensure no gas was detected. No odor of mercaptan and no readings were detected on the meters which allowed for the highway to reopen. National Grid entered into the facility were the leak occurred and would make the necessary repairs. Allens Avenue would stay closed until National Grid finished the repairs.
“Based on the work completed, no further action was required at this time.
“Status of Case: Closed”