Groundwater at Davis Superfund Site will take decades to repair

Mar 26, 2013

The DEM says the settlement puts polluters on notice.

The Department of Environmental management has reached a settlement in a case over pollution at the Davis Liquid Waste Superfund Site in Smithfield. The settlement was a long time coming, and the clean-up will take even longer.

Older residents in the state remember the Davis Liquid Waste Superfund site as the "giant mountain of car tires." The 10-acre site in rural Smithfield served as a dumping ground in the 1970s for pollutants like sludge, drums of chemical waste, and around 6 million discarded car tires. The DEM’s Deputy Chief in the office of waste management, Matt Destefano, says clean-up of the area has been going on for years. He adds it took the state more than a year to reach the current settlement, sending a message to those who pollute.

“This settlement basically puts the people who want to harm the environment on notice that the state will work tirelessly to make them pay,” he says.

Destefano says the initial settlement pay out of $750,000 will be used to protect Rhode Island’s groundwater. But he says restoring groundwater at the site will be difficult.

“Basically, the nature of the contaminants that were disposed of at the site are what we call, 'sinkers,'" he says. "It means the contaminant sinks to the bottom of the water column which in this case would be the bottom of the bedrock. And once it reaches the bedrock and gets into the fractures it’s very hard to reach it again.”

Destefano says difficulty in finding the pollutants is one reason why cleanup is expected to take at least 30-40 years. He says there is no magic bullet to heal the extent of pollution at the Davis site.