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Thursday, May 3, 2012

TONIGHT - Find out how to make sure your well water is safe

Free public information meeting TONIGHT at Cross Mills Library
By Will Collette

The Charlestown Conservation Commission is hosting a public meeting Thursday night, May 3, from 7 PM to 9:30 PM on well water.

They’re bringing in the experts from URI to talk to residents about their concerns about well water quality, water testing and how to prevent contamination.

Grace Klinger of the CC tells me “they can answer anything.”

When it comes to the quality of your drinking water, remember what Ronald Reagan said (and I can’t believe I’m quoting him), “Trust, but verify.”

Though most well water problems in town are probably either mechanical or due to septic system issues, Charlestown is not as pristine as it often appears. We have had significant hazardous waste problems from the Navy’s decades of use of Ninigret Park, the old United Nuclear site, the toxic waste dumping by Kenyon Mill’s former owners, and the town’s closed Narrow Lane Landfill.

Commemorative plate from United Nuclear
There’s also the potential for runoff and agricultural waste and chemicals to get into our underground water, although this is more of a problem for surface water.

Some cleanup jobs were fairly superficial. For example, only $2 million was spent for the cleanup of the Kenyon Sand Plain Road site, mostly to remove old, corroded – and empty – barrels of toxic waste and then cap the landfill.

I spent ten years working on toxic waste problems and know from experience that the only legitimate attraction of capping a landfill is to make the problem seem to disappear for cheap. Capping a site means adding tons of fill and topsoil on top of the site, which often simply pushes the toxic material off the site and into people’s wells.

When I worked extensively on hazardous waste problems, $2 million barely covered the cost of the preliminary cleanup study, and certainly not anything resembling a site cleanup.

Little work was done at all on the Narrow Land landfill other than a pretty half-assed job of monitoring for a time.

And Ninigret, like most former military airfields, was a cesspool of toxic chemicals (spilled fuel, lubricants, solvents, etc.) that were simply tossed into pits.

You can ask the URI experts for their advice on whether they think you need testing (although you need to make up your own mind what you need to do for peace of mind), where to go for reliable testing and how to get it done.

For a little more information on Charlestown’s hazardous waste sites, click on the following links:

In most instances, these sites have been declared “remediated” and no further work is being done. But “remediated” is not the same thing as “clean.” I know from visiting hundreds of such sites that unless the site has been completely excavated and the toxic material removed, the odds are high that it’s still there.

And excavation and removal is the last thing that federal, state or local officials want to do because it is the most expensive option.