Health Department: Stay out of the Kickemuit River

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Workers originally thought a faulty valve stem was to blame, but discovered the crack later.

Wastewater sprays from a cracked force pipe at the Kickemuit sewage pumping station in Bristol.

Wastewater sprays from a cracked force pipe at the Kickemuit sewage pumping station in Bristol.

State health officials are asking residents to stay out of the Kickemuit River until further notice, after a cracked pipe a Bristol pump station led to the release of anywhere between 500 and 10,000 gallons of raw sewage into the Kickemuit River just north of the Bristol Narrows.

The advisory came after DEM closed the Kickemuit to shellfishing, from a point north of a line drawn from Narrows Road in Bristol to Touisset Point in Warren, at about 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon.

Amie Parris, the assistant health program administrator at the Rhode Island Department of Health, said Friday afternoon that the river will remain closed to shellfishing for at least seven days, and ultimately won’t be opened back up until bacterial levels are acceptable. The estimate was contained in a letter she sent to Rep. Raymond Gallison of Bristol.

Though DEM and health department officials tested waters in the area Friday, there was no word Friday afternoon on the results.

An employee at the Bristol wastewater treatment plant initially said the release occurred at a pump station at the bottom of Annawamscutt Road in Bristol, but officials said Friday afternoon that a cracked pipe at a pump station adjacent to Harrison Avenue was to blame. Friday afternoon Jose DaSilva, superintendent of the Bristol Water Pollution Control Department, said the problem was noticed early afternoon Thursday.

“We don’t know how long it was leaking.” But judging by the plant’s operational schedule, the amount that leaked “could have been as little as 500 gallons. Worst case scenario, 10,000.”

Like other pump stations, the Kickemuit station collects wastewater that flows to it via gravity, where it collects in underground storage tanks. From there, it is pumped out as needed to higher ground and eventually makes its way to the town’s wastewater treatment plant off Wood Street. Workers went to the station early Thursday afternoon and noticed that effluent was escaping through a valve stem on one of the pump’s outgoing force pipes, whenever the pumps went on.

“We assumed it was the valve stem that was the problem,” Mr. DaSilva said.

Contractors came in that afternoon and discovered a large crack about five feet from the valve stem. The faulty section of pipe was replaced and the problem was repaired by Thursday night, Mr. DaSilva said.

Photos taken by workers Thursday show a pressured stream of wastewater spraying from what appears to be a PVC pipe. Mr. DaSilva said the pump station is relatively new, and he has no idea why the pipe failed.

“This came as a complete surprise. We have 90 miles of pipe in Bristol and there are areas that we focus on” as being problem areas, he said. “This wasn’t one of them.”

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