NORTH SMITHFIELD – In 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection notified two former North Smithfield business owners that their release of oil into the ground at industrial sites in town had caused groundwater contamination on Mechanic Street and Old Great Road in North Smithfield, and on Providence Street in nearby Millville, Mass.
Now, one business has stepped forward to work on a proposed solution that would see North Smithfield’s water lines extended to the affected homes in neighboring Massachusetts.
Philips Electronics at 51 Industrial Drive hopes to extend an 8 inch main water line approximately 750 feet from its current end at Old Great Road in North Smithfield over the state line, with Slatersville Water Company to manage the new customers and infrastructure.
The unique project would extend a solution implemented in 2020 by former Town Administrator Gary Ezovski to provide clean water to the affected homes in North Smithfield, to the adjoining community.
But while Philips, which conducted metals plating and branding at the 35-acre parcel between 1977 and 1990, is now involved in working on a solution, another North Smithfield-based company believed to be responsible continues to deny culpability, according to MassDEP.
“The owner/operator of 110 Graham Drive, PT Property Holdings, LLC aka Polytop, has not cooperated with MassDEP to perform response actions,” said MassDEP spokesman Edmund Coletta.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has also been involved, notifying PT Property owner William Masser last September that their department, “continues to believe that PT Property Holdings, LLC is partly responsible for the contamination of groundwater in North Smithfield, Rhode Island and Millville, Massachusetts.”
The letter was sent in response to a report from PT disputing the former plastic dispenser manufacturer’s responsibility, and notes that additional investigation is needed.
“The department’s primary concern with these releases is with regard to ongoing human exposure risks, and would be amendable to meeting to discuss solutions for eliminating those risks,” noted the communication, signed by RIDEM Environmental Engineer Nicholas Noons.
The project, which has largely progressed out of public view in recent years, could bring a final end to a problem that began in 2004, when contamination was found in several wells along Mechanic Street. In 2015, Trichloroethylene, Tetrachloroethylene and Freon 113 were also detected in wells supplying drinking water to three homes on Providence Street in nearby Millville, Mass.
MassDEP initially searched for a source of the pollution in Massachusetts, and once it became clear that the two towns’ water problems likely stemmed from the same source, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got involved in the interstate issue.
DEP then tested and ruled out several suspected sites in Rhode Island, including a 5-acre Superfund site on Old Great Road formerly owned by the Campanella and Cardi Construction Co., and the East Providence Concrete and Asphalt Co.
Working with RIDEM, MassDEP eventually identified the two industrial sites further away in North Smithfield, notifying the former owners of the responsibility in letters sent to both in November of 2018.
“MassDEP has reason to believe that there has been a release or releases of oil and/or hazardous material to the environment,” noted letters to both Philips and PT Holdings, aka Polytop Corp. at 110 Graham Drive.
At first, both companies questioned the findings, pointing in part to their distance from the contaminated wells.
Philips came around and has been fully cooperating with the agency since last year, assuming both the operation and maintenance of point of entry treatment systems for the water installed at the Millville properties.
In North Smithfield, a water extension to 46 homes in the area was financed through a $1 million bond approved by voters in 2018. But only ten of those homes have connected to the town system to date, possibly due to the cost of running lines to the road, an expense that falls on the homeowner.
Many have tested under the level of contaminants at which RIDEM registers concern. But Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski said to him, any level of contaminants is a concern.
This past Wednesday, Jan. 26, Zwolenski, Water & Sewer Supt. Russ Carpentier and Coordinator Maura Beck held a conference call with representatives from Philips in Kansas and Boston to discuss the extension of the water line, and the probability of connecting the remaining homes on Mechanic Street.
RIDEM Public Affairs Officer Michael Healey said that his agency, “has worked in lockstep with DEP on the contamination issues and is currently negotiating with the same responsible parties on potential solutions that address the contamination in the Mechanic Street and Old Great Road areas.”
Zwolenski said he’s hopeful a solution will be possible.
PT Holdings, meanwhile, continues to assert that the contamination is not associated with Polytop. A technical and legal response prepared by two firms hired by the North Smithfield business, GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc. and Duffy & Sweeney LTD, questions groundwater elevation and flow data, and points out that the release of Freon-113 is not associated with former operations on the lot.
RIDEM’s response noted that the chemical has been detected in monitoring wells, “immediately upgradient,” of the Polytop property. The lot has been under the RIDEM’s oversight for more than a decade due to the spread of chlorinated solvents to an aquifer that lies between the facility and the Branch River.
In December, MassDEP sent a letter stating the agency, “strongly supports,” RIDEM’s conclusion that additional assessment is required at the Graham Drive property to determine the nature and extent of Polytop’s CVOCs in groundwater.
“Polytop is encouraged to cooperate with Philips and the other [potentially responsible parties] to allocate responsibility and resources to complete necessary response actions for the site,” noted the communication from Audits Section Chief Rebecca Buswell.
At Philips, meanwhile, Senior Project Manager Edward Clement is spearheading compliance and solutions efforts.
“We discussed if this water line extension were to be approved by local and state officials and the town of North Smithfield Water District, who would be responsible for the maintenance of the new water line,” Clement wrote in a recent communication with MassDEP. “Our contact said that for all properties currently serviced by the town of North Smithfield, the water district is responsible for the maintenance of the water main and the individual property owners are responsible for the maintenance of the laterals from the main line to the homes.”
In the complicated world of water infrastructure, it may take some time to obtain all of the needed state and local approvals. But once the project gets the final go-ahead, Clement noted that actual construction of the new line and connection to the residential buildings will most likely take less than 30 days.