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Pawtucket, Rhode Island  -  Former Tidewater Gas Works Site

      Big Arm, Montana 21 January, 2005

Concerned gas plant neighbors at Pawtucket, Rhode Island have mounted a reasoned and planned investigation into potential presence of dumped and migrated off-site toxic wastes from the former (1885) Tidewater Gas Works of the Blackstone Valley Gas & Electric Co.

This reasoned concern is becoming a model for citizen participation where local residents have come to feel "left  out" of the regulatory deliberations over cleanup of gas works coal tars and other toxic residuals from gas manufacturing.

Often the health concerns of gas works neighbors are mismanaged out of fear of Potential Responsible Parties (PRPs) that their efforts to respond to regulatory orders for investigation and cleanup will be hampered by residents bearing unreasonable concerns or demands. Hence, it is common that a schism develops between those who "live across the street" and the other parties to the environmental restoration.

It is appropriate to bear in mind that the Federal EPA began to shuck its zeal for first-hand dealings with PRPs back in 1993 when it was determined that the State’s Rights concept of toxic waste cleanup was the most appropriate American way of dealing with uncontrolled hazardous waste site, in particular, with former manufactured gas plants (FMGPs).

Hence, some of the Tidewater Gas Works up-hill adjacent residents became frustrated when they began to question the seemingly neglected condition of the nearby fringes of the gas yard, the deteriorated condition of the boundary fence, and news of vandalism and spills of mercury (a common toxic waste at gas plant stations where gas meters were serviced and repaired). This second look at the situation left the residents feeling neglected in attention gained from parties to the cleanup and the basic question of "does the gas works contamination just stop at the fence line" came up and "are there ways by which on-site contamination may have migrated toward us?"

Fortunately, the generally up-hill topography of the concerned neighbors mitigates against toxic migration under most natural conditions, but not so in the general history of the handling and management of gas works wastes during the operational history of just about every manufactured gas plant. Uphill sites generally are naturally precluded from flow on contaminated ground water or of discharged "gas liquors" (process wastewater effluent, in the gas man’s terminology).

Concerned citizens around the Tidewater Gas Works site have created a website to air their concerns and they have "done their homework" in gathering and analyzing information that may not have been received the regulatory scrutiny and PRP response that they feel appropriate. http://lioneye.com/Toxic/ToxicPawtucket.htm

This story of citizen concern and potential intervention is not over, by any means. The reader should know that State environmental agencies generally are most accommodating to citizens visits for purposes of appointments to view FMGP remedial action files.

Hence, the concerned Tidewater residents present their case for attention to some reasoned concerned, mainly for the presence of dumped gas works residuals and wastes around and uphill of the gas plant.

We here with offer a series of images related to these concerns, courtesy of Mr. Lon Plynton, an "across the street" neighbor. The images were made in November and December of 2004.

The message here for the viewer is that prudent gas works site and waste characterization should never neglect the search for off-plant dump sites and where such efforts are neglected, the entire premise of risk assessments is reduced to nonsense. This concern also applies, of course, to on-site characterizations that are conducted with an imperfect understanding of the various gas manufacturing processes that may have existed at each former gas works site. Risk assessments conducted on the basis of flawed or missing site and waste characterization data are worse than incompetent, they are potentially dangerous in their conclusions as relate to the health and safety of residents, workers and visitors to such areas.

Photos of the Tidewater Site
Photographer:  Lon Plynton

 ( Click on any of the following thumbnail photos to see the full-sized versions )

Fig. 1:   Here is an environmental consultant’s site map indicating individual components of the gas manufacturing, storage and distribution pr ocess. Such drawings normally are tightly controlled by PRPs but once released to the State, as part of regulator compliance, they are public documents and are available for inspection and reproduction, as we have done here.
   The viewer should keep in mind that such materials may not contain all of the components and elements necessary to a complete assessment of the site for purposes of a lasting and safe environmental restoration. 

Caution: 800k file size

Fig. 2:    Concerned "outsiders" should be on the lookout for physical evidence of dumped or migrated toxic gas making residuals or wastes. One of the indicators of the potential presence of such substances are historic (period) demolition debris, such as this gas works firebrick manufactured by the Blackstone Valley Brick Co. (BVBC).

Fig. 3:    Of greatest concern to "outsiders" should be obvious indications of a gas works dump, shown here as a variety of dumpsite concrete slabs and mortared brick forming the edge of a gas works dump off Taft St,, at the edge of "neighborhood."
Fig. 4:    Looking further, Mr. Plynton discovered the discharge end of a cast-concrete drain pipe with considerable amounts of congealed gas tars, which sometimes have the "ropy" surface seen at the lower left of Mr. Plynton's view here.  We do not know if the tar was discharged as a flow or if it congealed from dissolved tars and particles of suspended tar, but both were common to the gas liquors that were nearly always discharged "to the ground" on or at the edge of the gas yards of FMGPs.
Fig. 5:    Boundary fences generally were installed in past years by gas companies, in recognition of their inherent knowledge of the dangerous characteristics and properties of their gas-making residuals and wastes. You will read descriptions of these types of toxics on the RESIDUALS and WASTES of GAS MANUFACTURING page of this website.
At any rate, this fence at Pawtucket is not protective of outsiders who may gain entrance to the unremediated site.
Fig. 6.   Here is a portion of the latest (1985) U.S. Geological Survey topographic quadrangle (1:24,000 scale) of the site area. Note the dot symbols denoting the former presence of two large gas holders. North is "up."
Fig. 7.   Here is an unremediated portion of the gas yard, as viewed from the left (west) corner. This will give you an idea of the rough nature of the site at present.
Fig. 8.    A 1997 vertical aerial photographic view of a portion of the gas yard, showing the two gas holders indicated on Fig. 6. Important here is the "lumpy" visual appearance of the gas yard, generally indicative of dumped gas-manufacturing residuals and wastes.



Note:  all photos courtesy of "neighbor" Mr. Lon Plynton.  View more of
          Mr. Plynton's work at 

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