Water Concerns

Coventry, RI – A water warning in Coventry is causing concern and frustration for residents whose tap water comes from private wells. Dozens of residents of Coventry have been told to stop using their tap water for ventilators and humidifiers. Health officials say drinking the water is safe, but questions about hi levels of Beryllium in the water have left many people nervous. State officials acknowledge there are probably other communities with high levels of Beryllium as well.

State health officials were not surprised to find Beryllium in Coventry. Beryllium is a light metal found in rocks and is a common source of contamination in the central part of Rhode Island. The primary health threat it poses is a disease called berylliosis, which is associated with breating fumes.

"You really don't absorb much through ingestion. We'd worry about Beryllium used in a vaporizer or humidifier, because we don't want people breathing this compound," said Robert Vanderslice of the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Some Residents along Colvintown and Meadowbrook Farm Roads are worried. They complain that there are sometimes odors in the neighborhood, of sewage or rotten eggs, depending on the weather and which way the wind is blowing. Some have physical reactions to the smell.

"Your arm falls asleep. You get that pins and needle feeling, it's like that. I'll get it instantly in my face, in my lips, and in my hands. Within a few hours to the next day, I'll start either getting a runny nose, a sore throat, kind of like allergy symptoms. And then it would progress. Within a year, I'd start feeling like I'm getting the flu, it'd last a day or two days, and then it'd be gone. It'd be every now and then. And then it started to progress to muscle spasms, charlie horses, stiffness and shaking," said resident Kim Paul.

State regulators are unsure what the source of the well-water contamination is. They say it is probably a natural source in the ground. But some residents have another suspect ? the now-closed Global Waste Recycling plant, which used to process construction and demolition debris.

State regulators acknowledge that some of the debris on the site includes drywall and other materials that may contain sulfer. The piles can emit a common air contaminant called hydrogen sulfide, which may cause the rotten eggs odor. Plant operators also insist there is no health threat.

"We do not believe that we are hurting or harming or doing anything detrimental to the environment. Not at all. If we knew that there was something that could even remotely do it, we would stop and correct it immediately and ask everyone how to get it straightened out. My children work here. Why am I going to put my children in harms way? Wouldn't allow it." Said William Bettez, Global Vice President of Operations.

Hear the complete report by Suzannah Gonzales, who is an environmental reporting fellow of the Metcalf Institute at the University of Rhode Island.