By KYLE HENCE/ecoRI News staff
NEWPORT — The city has discovered environmental contaminants in soil from Queen Anne Square at levels that prompted a recent meeting at the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM).
Scott Wheeler, of the city’s Parks Department; Pieter Roos, of the Newport Restoration Foundation; Jeff Moniz of construction contractor Farrar & Associates Inc.; and Rick Mandile and Bruce Clark of Sage Environmental all joined DEM senior waste management engineer Joe Martella for the meeting.
On Feb. 24, the city submitted a “Hazardous Material Release Form” (pdf) required whenever detected contaminants at any site within state jurisdiction exceed limits delineated by DEM regulations.
ecoRI News first reported on environmental concerns at Queen Anne Square in December and again in January, when soil sampling began — the first step in the city-approved construction project to re-fashion the downtown public park.
The planned redevelopment is designed by famed Vietnam Memorial designer Maya Lin, spearheaded by the Newport Restoration Foundation, funded by local benefactors and donors, and was approved by the City Council, 5-1, amid controversy and national media attention in December.
Lab tests of several samples showed levels of lead, petroleum and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) exceeding DEM limits. For example, the results revealed soil samples with more than 10 times the allowable limit for benzopyrene, one of four PAHs of concern.
It’s not uncommon for these contaminants to be found in older urban settings, where construction projects have utilized tainted fill, according to Martella. In fact, the release form refers to “urban fill” as the source of contaminants at Queen Anne Square. The extent of contamination is described as “sporadic throughout site.”
According to the Center for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are a group of more than 100 different chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil and gas, garbage, or other organic substances such as tobacco or charbroiled meat.
Animal studies have shown that PAHs can cause harmful effects on the skin and hinder the ability to fight disease after both short- and long-term exposure, according to the CDC.
PAHs are somewhat more stable than PERC, or tetrachloroethene, a cleaning solvent some had suspected might be found, given the presence of a commercial laundry on the site more than 40 years ago.
“The concern (to the public) is direct exposure,” Martella said.
Sage Environmental, the company that conducted the first round of testing, will continue their on-site investigation, according to Martella. “They indicated they will be taking more samples,” he said, “in order to fill in data gaps.”
The remediation options are removal, capping or some combination depending upon the circumstances, Martella said. “The remedy of a cap is fairly typical,” he said.
A site is capped by clearing off a layer of soil and covering over the deeper lying contaminants with clean fill or soil. During construction itself, regulations dictate how site contractors are to manage dust and erosion that might contain residual contaminants and reduce exposure risks to the public.
The DEM has created a dedicated webpage to the Queen Anne Square project, because “there has been a lot of interest,” Martella said.