DEM Says Little Harm Caused by Thousands of Gallons of Spilled Gasoline

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

 The recent gasoline spill was the third such major accident on Providence’s South Side since March 2017, including a ruptured natural-gas pipeline. (ecoRI News)

The recent gasoline spill was the third such major accident on Providence’s South Side since March 2017, including a ruptured natural-gas pipeline. (ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) said the thousands of gallons of gasoline that recently poured into the Providence River had minimal environmental impacts and will not harm aquatic life such as shellfish.

On the night of Oct. 3, a tanker truck carrying about 11,500 gallons of gasoline tipped on an on-ramp to Interstate 95 North. Its tank ruptured and spilled all but 400 gallons of gas onto Allens Avenue and into storm drains that lead to the Providence River.

The state agency was criticized for intentionally flushing the spilled gasoline and an absorbent foam into the harbor. But DEM said the harm would be minimal because gasoline evaporates in water.

DEM monitored the shoreline of the Providence River throughout the following day and reported no significant gasoline sheen outside of the immediate areas of the stormwater outfalls, nor were there remnants of the foam on the water. The outfalls have been surrounded by containment booms. DEM noted that unlike oil, gasoline floats on the surface where it dissipates and dilutes quickly.

The environmental advocacy and education organization Save The Bay is asking the public to let them know if anyone finds birds or fish that may be in distress or have died as a result of the spill.

DEM said the impacts could have been worse and called its action and cleanup a model for hazmat response.

“Providence public safety, firefighters, and hazmat personnel deserve tremendous credit for leading the way,” DEM spokesman Michael Healey said.

DEM crews were at the scene through the night with the other first responders from the city and state. The hazmat crews worked with clean-up contractor First Petroleum Management until 9 p.m. Oct. 4, venting and vacuuming gasoline out of some eight storm-drain catch basins along the 300-yard stretch of Allens Avenue from the I-95 on-ramp down to the Shell gas and oil terminal.

Allens Avenue was closed because of dangerously high readouts of gasoline vapor in the drains. The material had to be removed from the storm drains before the Department of Transportation could repave and open the roadways.

As part of the assessment of the environmental impact, DEM’s police boat conducted patrols and inspections of the river. The agency’s Office of Water Resources took water samples in upper Narragansett Bay and the Providence River.

“Thus far, we haven’t seen any impacts on the water and don’t expect any impacts, but we will continue to monitor,” Healey said.

Neighbors not notified
Residents in the South Providence and Washington Park neighborhoods weren’t informed of the spill and related power outage, but they did notice the overpowering fumes of gasoline in the air. 

Industrial odors from the oil, asphalt, and chemical processing operations along the city’s working waterfront are nothing new to a community that is designated as an environmental justice area. But the power outage coupled with the stench of gasoline was alarming.

“I live right there and no one let us know. There was zero communication about it,” said Lucy Rios, who lives on Georgia Avenue, three blocks from the spill.

The failure to inform residents, Rios said, shows the lack of respect for the community. “It speaks to not being accountable to people who live there,” she said.

The environmental advocacy group No LNG in PVD said the spill risked igniting a fire or explosion from the toxins and hazardous chemicals emitted by companies such as Shell, Motiva Enterprises, and Univar.

The group noted that the incident was the third in a year and a half. In March 2017 a large natural-gas pipeline ruptured on Allens Avenue and train car carrying ethanol derailed.

“The Allens Avenue spill raises questions about the level of risk to which the City of Providence and the State of Rhode Island are willing to expose residents of the neighborhoods adjacent to the Port of Providence in order to maintain the fossil fuel industry,” according to a No LNG in PVD statement.