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    R.I. MTBE Decontamination Ahead of Schedule

    Water will be potable for the first time in years by December.

    BURRILLVILLE, R.I. -- A state project to clean up the MTBE contaminating Pascoag's water supply is moving ahead faster than originally expected, Town Manager Michael Wood said.

    The Pascoag contamination, the biggest spill in Rhode Island history, crippled the village of Pascoag two years ago, forcing thousands of Pascoag Utility District water customers to rely on bottled water for months, Woonsocket Call, R.I. The village is currently receiving clean water piped in from wells in neighboring Harrisville while the DEM works to clean up the contamination. The suspected source of the MTBE is the former Main Street Mobil gas station in Pascoag, which had three 6,000-gallon underground storage tanks (USTs).

    The owners and operators of the gas station, Potter Oil Inc. and Medea LLC, filed voluntary bankruptcy in November 2001 and, as a result, the Department of Health and Department of Environmental Management (DEM) assumed all emergency response and cleanup activities.

    The DEM was projecting two to five years and at least $2 million to complete the entire project and has already spent in excess of $769,000 to clean up the contamination. The project is being conducted in three phases.

    To date, DEM crews have designed, installed and operated since December of 2002 a soil vapor extraction and groundwater free product recovery system at the former gas station property. Crews have also removed all free product from the gas station area and recovered approximately 2,500 equivalent gallons of gasoline from the source area. Crews have also removed in excess of 3,000 tons of petroleum contaminated soil and recovered in excess of 440,000 gallons of highly contaminated groundwater.

    The DEM has also removed four underground storage tanks and installed 51 bedrock groundwater monitoring wells to delineate the contamination plume. The DEM laboratory has analyzed hundreds of soil, surface and groundwater samples and performed several aquifer pumping tests as well.
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    Teaming up with the state DEM, scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) visited Pascoag this spring to test a bioreactor, which uses microorganisms, or bacteria, to clean up the petroleum-contaminated water.

    Wood said there is some indication from engineers that clean drinking water could be available sooner than later. "I can't say there's going to be clean drinking water on a certain date or available at a certain place, but there's light at the end of the tunnel," Wood he said.

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