Warwick Beacon - March 23, 2004
Defenders of brook fear chemical release

This winter was better than last, until it snowed last Tuesday.

“This year, the stream is in much better condition,” Steve Insana, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, said last Monday.

The following night, coalition members who had been meeting in the Knights of Columbus Hall on Sandy Lane broke up about 9:15. As they headed toward their parked cars they spotted a truck belonging to Fuss & O’Neill, the environmental firm contracted by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation to monitor environmental issues in the wetlands areas on airport property. This time, they were in the vicinity of Buckeye Brook. So, Insana and fellow volunteers decided to check it out. They hadn’t gone far before they picked up a sweet odor of what they believed had to be propylene glycol, the chemical used for deicing aircraft.

The glycol evaporates, but it also removes dissolved oxygen from water. Lower levels of dissolved oxygen can result in fish and other aquatic animal kills.

“Not to my knowledge,” reacted Brenda Pope of RIAC of word that the Coalition members may have detected the odor from a glycol spill.

Last year, repeated releases of glycol into the brook raised concerns that the annual herring run would be negatively impacted. Save the Bay and the Department of Environmental Management also became involved, monitoring conditions.

“We had sampling crews on site,” Pope confirmed as vice president of environmental management systems for the airport, “and they would have noticed [a spill],” she added, noting that the chemical has a pink hue.

Pope added that the consultants are scheduled to conduct two wet weather samplings this year, each one over a 72-hour period, checking for infiltrates of oil and grease and other potential contaminants. When the coalition saw the team last week, they were in the process of their second scheduled round of samplings.

John Torgan, spokesman for Save the Bay, said Friday that though the odor by the brook is obviously not a good thing, he does believe RIAC is working hard to remedy the problem.

“While they clearly haven’t solved the problem,” said Torgan, “they have made a much greater effort to get a handle on the source. Clearly, this level of odor is a nuisance and unacceptable. People shouldn’t have to breathe this for a two-mile stretch. However, so far, this winter has been much better. We have got much fewer complaints than in past years.”

Torgan added that he believed RIAC is making a sincere effort to be a better neighbor to the brook.

This year conditions have been better until the recent release.

“They didn’t close the inserts to basins, and this year they closed them before they froze,” explained Michelle Komar of why conditions have been reasonably good up until now.

Vice president of the coalition, Komar reasons too many planes may have been lined up for deicing last week, thus causing the current problem. The airport attempts to recover the glycol after it has been sprayed on aircraft for recycling.

“To me it’s back to old business…there should be no tolerance for odor,” she said.

Pope remained firm on her position that it’s too certain to know if there was indeed a glycol spill but admitted, “I wouldn’t know until we get the [sampling] results back,” adding that should be during the week of April 5.

In the meantime, as part of a memorandum of understanding with Save the Bay, RIAC is joining the coalition and Save the Bay in promoting and recruiting volunteers for the Earth Day cleanup of the brook and its tributaries on April 3.

Insana is looking for a “huge” cleanup effort to remove debris and obstructions from the brook so that the fish can reach their spawning grounds in Warwick Pond. He is hopeful of recruiting 75 to 100 volunteers. Volunteers are to meet at 9 a.m. in the Knights of Columbus parking lot. The rain date is April 4.

Insana is also looking for volunteers to assist with fish counts once the spawning run starts. Volunteers are needed in April and May and are assigned to various posts along the stream for 10-minute segments.

Those interested in learning more about volunteering are urged to attend one of two training sessions to be conducted this Thursday from 5-6 p.m. and again on Saturday from 10-11 a.m. at the brook as it flows under Warwick Avenue not far from the Knights of Columbus parking lot. Volunteers are taught how to measure the stream’s depth, which can vary with tidal flow, temperature and how to count fish. The training takes from 15 to 20 minutes.

Both Komar and Insana said Pope has been helpful and responsive to issues raised by the coalition.

“She’s been really, really good,” said Insana.

He said Pope had arranged for a tour of airport property and a viewing of outfalls that feed into the brook’s watershed. He did not elaborate on what he saw other than to say he believes there can be improvements.

Insana called last year’s herring runs one of the brook’s worst.

“There were [fish] counters who didn’t record a single fish in 10 minutes,” he said. “Let’s hope to God we have a good run [this year].”

As for a longer runway at Green, which the RIAC board is expected to vote to include in the airport master plan tomorrow evening, Insana said, “I have never been opposed to airport expansion. It’s the brook I’m concerned about.”

He went on to say, however, “To expand on the existing problem is only going to make it worse.” In that regard, he is concerned about the proposed relocation of the airport maintenance facility, now on the north side of Airport Road to an area within the airport fence near the brook. He believes that if the facility is built it could potentially add to the pollutants that may end up in the brook.

What does it look like? Click below to see actual images of glycol in Buckeye Brook.

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2. Glycol2.jpg