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EPA Awards $1 Million for Pascoag MTBE Cleanup

Release Date: 05/07/2002
Contact Information: Andrew Spejewski, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1014

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced the availability of $1 million to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to address contaminated groundwater in the Pascoag Utility District in Burrillville, R.I. Among the worst cases of its kind in New England, the district's water supply has been contaminated with methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) and other gasoline additives.

The funds, from EPA's Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, will be used by DEM to remove the source of the contamination – leaking underground storage tanks (USTs) at an area gas station – and install treatment systems for contaminated groundwater that has left the property. More than 4,000 area residents have been impacted by the contaminated water supply.

The Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) trust fund is administered by EPA using a portion of federal gasoline taxes. Today's award is only the third time EPA has made funds available from the fund for a specific site.

"I'm pleased that EPA is in a position to help Rhode Island clean up this contamination which has adversely affected so many local residents," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator at EPA's New England Office. "Our priority now is to work closely with DEM in the coming weeks to make sure the final cleanup gets moving as quickly as possible."

Varney said he appreciated the efforts of Rhode Island's congressional delegation in obtaining the funding, particularly Senator Lincoln Chafee, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works' Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Control and Risk Assessment, which has jurisdiction over MTBE issues. Senator Chafee has been active in drawing national attention to the MTBE problem and the need for financial assistance.

"I'm very pleased that the citizens of Pascoag will finally receive the federal assistance they need to cope with the MTBE contamination that has had such a huge impact on their daily lives," said Senator Lincoln Chafee. "Unfortunately, the village of Pascoag is just one of hundreds of communities across the nation that has suffered from MTBE contamination that can be traced to leaking underground storage tanks. Legislation I have introduced would help prevent future incidents of contamination, while providing communities like Pascoag with the federal help they need to clean up the contaminated sites."

"The $1 million in federal funds being awarded to Rhode Island will enable the state to continue the critical and costly work it has been doing over the past eight months to address and mitigate the contamination problems in the Pascoag Water District," Governor Lincoln Almond said. "So far, the state has spent more than $1 million on the cleanup efforts, and much more work needs to be done. Although the state's Underground Storage Tank fund has provided key support, the fund is not capable of supporting all the costs of the cleanup and needs to be available for other UST-related issues elsewhere in the state. I commend the EPA for working in partnership with us and welcome this much-needed financial assistance."

"This contaminated water problem is a nightmare for families living in the Pascoag area," said Senator Jack Reed. "The federal government and state should do all they can to help these families. I am pleased EPA has secured this money and I hope we can all work together to find additional resources to put an end to the problem. There is nothing more vital to a community than the availability of a reliable, clean, safe source of water."

"I'm gratified to have worked with the EPA to bring this funding to Rhode Island," said U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy. "The disruption to the lives of so many Rhode Islanders because of the presence of MTBE in their groundwater cannot be overstated. I'm pleased that the EPA has recognized the seriousness of the problem in Pasoag, and that we're now moving to ensure not only a cleanup, but to also see that an incident of this type does not happen again."

DEM Director Jan Reitsma also commended the efforts of Terrence Gray, DEM's Assistant Director for Air, Waste and Compliance, and his staff for their efforts in working with EPA to secure the $1 million.

MTBE and other gasoline components were first detected at high levels in the village's drinking water last September. The MTBE was traced to a leak from a gas station, which has declared bankruptcy and is unable to fund the cleanup.

The Pascoag Water District and DEM initially provided bottled water to the more than 4,000 affected residents, and an interim filter system was installed at the wells. The village well field is now shut down and residents are now receiving drinking water from the adjacent village of Harrisville, also in Burrillville.

DEM has already spent $1.1 million investigating the site, providing clean drinking water and beginning the cleanup. This total includes $550,000 of previously awarded federal Underground Storage Tank funds that EPA allowed the state to redirect to the Pascoag cleanup last fall.

DEM will use the EPA funding to remove the source of the contamination (leaking tanks and/or previously spilled gasoline that has drained underground) and set up treatment systems that will lower contamination at the site and stop the flow of contaminated groundwater off of the site. DEM will need to formally apply and negotiate a work plan with EPA to receive the funds.