WOONSOCKET, R.I. (AP) — A wastewater treatment plant in Rhode Island has been discharging sewage that’s only partly treated into the Blackstone River all week, state environmental officials said Friday.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management warned residents on Sunday to avoid the stretch of the river near the Woonsocket Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility.
The department said Friday that the issue at the facility had not been fixed and that partly treated wastewater was still being discharged. Department spokesperson Michael Healey said officials are concerned that it’s taking this long and are investigating whether it’s an equipment or process failure.
Healey said the part of the system that’s supposed to treat and separate solid human waste is not working. Normally that waste would be removed and incinerated, but now it’s going into the river, he added.
“Of the things that can go wrong at a treatment facility, that’s the worst,” Healey said.
The treatment facility is owned by the city of Woonsocket. The city has a contract with Jacobs, a Texas-based consulting and engineering firm, for the operations and maintenance of the plant. The mayor’s office and Jacobs did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment Friday.
The facility treats 6 million to 8 million gallons of sewage from Woonsocket and nearby areas daily. The environmental management department said it previously issued letters of noncompliance to the facility in November 2021 and March 2022 regarding “operations and maintenance concerns.”
Residents are being urged to avoid swimming, boating or fishing in the river from Cumberland Hill Road in Woonsocket to the Slater Mill Dam in Pawtucket, and to avoid eating any fish from the Blackstone River.