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Release Date: 09/09/1998
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin collecting dozens of sediment and riverbank samples today from the Woonasquatucket River as part of an ongoing effort to determine the extent of dioxin contamination in and along the river.

The sampling, which will be done today and tomorrow, will include the collection of 45 soil and sediment samples from 42 locations along a seven-mile stretch of the river. Samples will be collected as far north as Esmond Park in Smithfield and as far south as Waterplace Park in Providence.

The sampling follows an earlier round of sampling by EPA, which showed highly elevated dioxin levels in the sediments behind a half-dozen dams along the river. The sampling results, which were publicized in July, prompted EPA and the R.I. Department of Health to remind the public to avoid wading and swimming in the river, and, more importantly, to refrain from eating fish caught in the river.

"The new samples will give us a much better handle on the extent and severity of dioxin contamination in the Woonasquatucket, especially along riverbanks where the public is more apt to come into contact with the river," said John P. DeVillars, regional administrator of the EPA's New England Office. "The sampling results will also help us better pinpoint where the dioxin is coming from and in evaluating possible cleanup actions."

DeVillars also announced that an additional 40 warning signs will be posted along the river later this month. The "Don't Eat The Fish" signs, in English and Spanish, are being posted cooperatively by EPA and the communities along the river. Earlier this summer, 17 signs were posted along the river by the Providence Plan, a nonprofit group collaborating with EPA-New England on its Urban Rivers Initiative.

Matthew Audet, an EPA scientist who is overseeing the sampling project, said the samples collected this week will be analyzed at an EPA Laboratory in Kansas City. Results are expected in mid- January. After the results are finalized, EPA will hold a public meeting to update residents on the new data and the health risks posed by the river.