PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is advising neighborhoods in Warwick and other communities along the Providence River and East and West Passages of the Upper Narragansett Bay that reports have come in today of pieces of hard plastic shaped like pinwheels washing ashore.
The plastic debris was flushed out of the City of East Providence's wastewater treatment facility in Riverside during the intense storm of March 2. The debris, called "media," is not dangerous or contaminated with sewage sludge. It escaped the plant after going through the treatment system's secondary clarification and disinfection stages. It did not escape directly into the Providence River.
DEM is investigating the matter and will follow up with the City and its wastewater treatment contractor to identify interim measures that may prevent further release while they work to reduce the root cause of excessive flows. Residents are reminded that the discharge of stormwater and sump pumps into the City's sanitary sewer are prohibited.
"With more intense storms due to climate change, unfortunately, we will see more trash and debris carried by stormwater into our waterways," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "We need to do more to prevent plastics from ending up in Narragansett Bay."
Earlier today, Save The Bay reported substantial amounts of the debris on the north-facing beach of Rocky Point. Other reports indicate debris having been beached at Gaspee Point and Conimicut. East Providence officials have already visited the Gaspee site and have crews arriving tomorrow for cleanup. Save the Bay has been notifying their members to help target cleanup.
The plastic media are used to help the wastewater system remove nutrients before the treated water is disinfected and discharged. They're added to aeration tanks to increase the surface area for bacteria to grow. Bacteria help break down raw sewage for subsequent treatment.
DEM encourages anyone seeing the debris to call DEM's 24/7 Dispatch at 401-222-3070 so that DEM can track locations and bring that to the attention of the crews working to remove the debris from our environment.