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News Release
RI Department of Environmental Management
235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908
(401) 222-2771 TDD/(401) 222-4462

For Release: July 26, 2004
Contact: Gail Mastrati 222-4700 ext. 2402
Stephanie Powell 222-4700 ext. 4418

DEM Continues to Investigate Source of Odors

PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management will coordinate the removal and cleanup of decaying seaweed that has been washing up along the shoreline in the Conimicut section of Warwick since Saturday. A large, thick mat of decaying seaweed in upper Narragansett Bay is believed to be the source of objectionable odors that have been plaguing the Conimicut neighborhood since last week.

Tuesday morning, crews from the City of Warwick's Department of Public Works will begin removing the decaying material from the beach. The greatest concentration of seaweed is located between Symond and Stokes Streets, off Shawomet Avenue. The cleanup is expected to continue for several days this week, and will be done at low tide. Work crews will rake the seaweed from the beach and transport it to the Warwick composting facility, where it will be incorporated into compost.

On Wednesday and Thursday, cleanup crews from DEM's emergency response contractor, Clean Harbors, will attempt an experimental waterside cleanup of the decayed seaweed. Using two boats, the contractor will tow booms into the area and try to physically move the seaweed mat from Conimicut Cove by pulling it back into the channel. If this proves to be an effective means of removing the seaweed, Clean Harbors will continue the work.

DEM has been actively monitoring the conditions in Conimicut, and inspectors from the Office of Compliance and Inspection have been physically on-scene in the neighborhood throughout the weekend and today to assess water and shoreline conditions. The Department also consulted with Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and Department of Public Works officials last week and throughout the weekend in anticipation of the cleanup actions. DEM Acting Director Frederick Vincent acknowledges and thanks the City of Warwick for its continued cooperation and action in this regard. Based on the problems experienced last summer with fish kills, decaying seaweed, and odors in the Conimicut neighborhood, DEM and HEALTH officials met with municipal leaders from Warwick, East Greenwich, East Providence, and Barrington during the past several months to discuss strategies should a similar incident occur this year.

According to DEM inspectors, the water along the Conimicut Point shoreline is discolored, and the odors are particularly intense at low tide. The configuration and shallowness of Conimicut Cove, combined with the recent period of northeasterly winds, have essentially trapped a large mass of decaying organic materials within Conimicut Cove and prevented it from being pushed down the channel and out to sea. Under normal conditions, tidal action, wind and waves would allow natural decomposition to occur, without the need for cleanup intervention. Decaying matter often releases hydrogen sulfide, a noxious gas that causes a strong odor. Long term exposure to low concentrations of the substance can trigger respiratory complaints such as breathing difficulties.

DEM is continuing to investigate other possible sources for the odors. To investigate the ongoing dredging operation in the upper Bay as a possible source, DEM today collected air samples in the area that is being dredged, but found no elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide near the dredging operation. DEM is also investigating a large juvenile soft-shell clam kill south of Conimicut Point, in the vicinity of Mill Cove. It remains unclear what caused the kill, or whether it is related to the odor problems affecting the nearby neighborhood.

The public may report any continuing problems, and any suspected sources of those problems, to DEM's Office of Compliance and Inspections at 222-1360 (weekdays) or after hours/weekends at 222-3070.

Rhode Islanders can listen to updates on the overall health of the Bay on "Bay Line", DEM's 24-hour telephone recorded information service. The "Bay Line" number, 222-8888, is located in Providence and is, therefore, not a toll call from other areas of the state. In addition to updates on the health of the Bay, "Bay Line" provides Rhode Islanders with a central telephone number to leave a recorded message about any sign of Bay-related environmental problems for appropriate follow-up. Callers may also pose questions about the Bay. "Bay Line" also provides referral numbers for information about current restrictions on beaches and fishing, such as HEALTH's beach hotline, 222-2571 and the DEM shellfish line, 222-2900.


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