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EPA Approves $400,000 to Help Rhode Island in Tackling MTBE Contamination in Pascoag

Release Date: 09/21/2001
Contact Information: Andrew Spejewski, EPA Press Office (617-918-1014)

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that it has approved the use of up to $400,000 in federal grant money by the R.I. Department of Environmental Management to address water supply contamination problems in the Pascoag Utility District in Burrillville, R.I. The district's water supply has been contaminated with methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive.

DEM can use the money to provide financial relief to the Pascoag Utility District for whatever interim and long-term options are approved for treatment or for alternative water supplies. Funding may also be used for DEM's investigation to determine the source of the contamination as well as possible cleanup work. Under federal law, any parties responsible for the contamination will be held liable for reimbursing the federal funds.

The funds are from existing federal grants for cleaning up leaking underground storage tanks. The grants were awarded to DEM in 1997 and 1999.

"I'm pleased that EPA is in a position to help Rhode Island get this water contamination problem addressed as quickly as possible," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "Pascoag residents are facing enormous hardships and, like DEM and the utility district, we'd like to see solutions as quickly as possible."

"From the onset, DEM has been working in conjunction with the Governor's Office, the Department of Health, and the Pascoag Water District to find short and long term solutions to the water supply issues," said Jan Reitsma, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. "I appreciate EPA's support for our efforts to help the Pascoag District to resolve its very serious water contamination problem. EPA's willingness to be flexible with the federal funds they provide to Rhode Island reflects the strength and effectiveness of our federal-state partnership."

"I am pleased with EPA's announcement of assistance today, but we cannot rest until we ensure that all resources are made available to provide clean, safe water for the citizens of Burrillville who find themselves in a terrible situation," said U.S. Senator Jack Reed. "There is nothing more essential than clean water for drinking and washing."

"This federal assistance will be a good first step in addressing the MTBE contamination in Pascoag," said U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee. "I look forward to personally visiting Pascoag on Monday to learn about the extent of the problem, and what further assistance will be required. As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I hope to assist communities like Pascoag through federal legislation to clean up contaminated sites, prevent future contamination from underground tanks, and eliminate MTBE altogether as a potential contaminant."

"I'm gratified that the Environmental Protection Agency has realized the extent of the groundwater problem in Pascoag Utility District," said U.S. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy. "MTBE is an insidious problem once it enters groundwater, and the health risks posed by long-term exposure to this chemical are unacceptable for the people of Burrillville. I'll continue to work with the people of Burrillville and the EPA to ensure that all who use the water in that community have the same confidence in the quality of their water that people across the nation possess."

MTBE contamination was discovered earlier this month in the wells that provide drinking water for the Pascoag Utility District. The high levels of MTBE spurred warnings to the district's 1,200 customers to avoid drinking or cooking and limit bathing with the water. The utility district is pursuing interim sources of drinking water and long-term treatment options. DEM is aggressively investigating the sources of contamination. Once the source is identified, the agency will pursue cleanup, though cleanup will almost certainly be a long-term project taking six months to several years.