EAST PROVIDENCE — Anthony St. Angelo would love to allow his children — ages 12, 6 and 5 — outside to play after school or on the weekends, but he's afraid of the consequences.
One major fear includes the possibility of developing respiratory problems caused by the dust and/or stench emanating from the TLA-Pond View Recycling Facility, located near the banks of Rumford's Omega Pond.
“We bought our house (a bungalow at 129 Roger Williams Ave.) two-plus years ago; we had moved from a neighborhood in E.P. where I found used drug needles and broken beer bottles on our corner lot,” he stated. “Those things you can clean up, but the dust flying in the air, you just can't.
“Since we bought it, my kids haven't played outside because the smell gets so bad, the dust so thick, it's dangerous,” he added. “They want to be outdoors, but there's no way I'll risk it. They could get a disease. All we want is for our kids to have a clean quality of life.”
That's just one reason St. Angelo and about 150 other neighbors of TLA-Pond View congregated on the side lawn at 70 Kelley Ave. — adjacent to the Glenlyon Playground/Recreational Complex — on Monday afternoon.
Attendees made it clear they're vehemently opposed to TLA-Pond View officials requesting an increase in amount of tonnage from 500 to 1,500 per day. That proposal, made late last summer, is now before the Department of Environmental Management.
On Feb. 28, 2008, TLA — which stands for Trans-Load America — purchased the assets of Pond View, and DEM officials transferred its license and the amount of construction and demolition material it could accept from 150 to 500 tons per day. That occurred without a public hearing, Schneider said.
In essence, these concerned citizens got together to publicly ask new DEM Director Janet Coit to deny that proposal to triple its operation from 500 to 1,500.
“I pressure-washed my house six times last year; it makes it clean, but a month later, it's filthy again,” St. Angelo noted. “It's a nice yellow when I pressure-wash it, and a dirty yellow a few weeks later. I'm sick and tired of it.”
The rally was assembled by Ken Schneider, Co-President of the East Providence Coalition, a band of neighbors who claim they've put up with the pollution for several years. One woman held a sign reading, “Help Us Clear the Air! Deny Pond View.” Two small children, both wearing masks, used their tiny fingers to exhibit another yellow-and-black sign stating, “Violation: TLA-Pond View in Non-Compliance with State Environmental Laws.
Another poster, held by two teens, stated, “DEM, Don't Fail Us!”
“We decided to have this event here because you can see Pond View,” Schneider said in front of the crowd, including dignitaries such as State Sens. Frank Devall and Daniel DaPonte; State Rep. Helio Mello; City Council members William Conley, Michael Digioia and Katie Kleyla (who represents Rumford and arrived later); Taryn Hallweaver of the Toxics Action Center in Boston; and John Torgen of “Save the Bay.
“TLA-Pond View is supposed to be a construction and demolition debris recycling center, which sounds nice and sweet,” he added. “But, in actuality, they're bringing in anything and everything to recycle, and we're paying the price.
“When it first opened in 1998, they brought in neighbors and showed them how they would grind up things like pallets, and said, 'Here, this is what we're going to do.' Here we are, 13 years later, and 98 percent of the trucks that roll through there are from out-of-state. They're also carrying anything you could possibly imagine in dumpsters. That wasn't part of the deal.”
During his speech, Schneider thanked all for attending, then delivered his thoughts on the issue.
“For 13 years, Pond View has been causing respiratory problems, and has destroyed the quality of life in this entire area,” said Schneider, who lives on nearby Edward Avenue. “For 13 years, DEM has failed to monitor this operation, and has not done the proper testing to protect us. For 13 years, Pond View has been grinding creosote-treated wood, which produces carcinogens that become airborne.
“For 13 years, Pond View has been grinding lead-painted wood, which produces airborne arsenic,” he added. “This is an open-air facility! Pond View has had wood chips recalled because of its high lead content, and (it) now wants to expand to 10 times their original permit (of 150 tons) to an intake of 1,500 tons per day. DEM doesn't have the proper information to make any decision about expansion.
“We are demanding that Janet Coit and the DEM deny any expansion … since they have already caused respiratory problems and destroyed our quality of life.”
Devall explained he co-sponsored a bill in the Senate, one sponsored by DaPonte, that would decrease the limit produced to 150 tons per day and give the local government an equal say with the DEM.
“It's a concern for people living here,” Devall said. “People have called me with their concerns about the odor, the noise, soot and dust. We need to find out if it's being capped, or maybe test the dust to see if it's harmful. I haven't received any calls concerning physical illnesses.
“People are concerned about their environment. They can see it and smell it, so they're asking, 'What kind of effect does it have on us?”
Mark and Andrea Silva live on Sutcliffe Circle, and they can't believe how much dust they find inside their home.
“She's constantly complaining about all the dust,” Mark said. “It's an abnormal amount, both inside and out. It's a white home, but it's kind of yellowed now. Another thing is Omega Pond is a site where herring come back to spawn every year, and (the waste produced by Pond View) could be detrimental to wildlife in the area. It may be screwing up the ecological system.”
Stated Andrea: “Our neighbor told us about this rally on Saturday, and — today — I got the answer for all the dust. It's appalling. We'd like to do yard work, and maybe even put up a patio, but that would defeat the purpose. We couldn't sit outside and enjoy the weather, so why bother?”
Council member Conley, who lives perhaps two miles away near the Turner Reservoir, called it a horrible problem.
“I haven't missed it,” he offered. “Everyone's impacted by the pollution spewing out of Pond View. When any person is at risk, the entire community should respond on his or her behalf, and that's what we see here. This isn't only about Rumford. I was just talking to a handful of folks from Riverside who chose to come to support their friends and relatives.
In response to Coit being the new DEM director, Conley admitted, “I'm hopeful that a new set of eyes
and a deeper analysis of the impact of the facility on neighbors will result in DEM denying the request for expansion. The Rhode Island Supreme Court ordered DEM last May to hold hearings on a 500-ton per day permit, and the DEM has ignored those orders.”
Jo-Ann Durfee, who lives on Omega Way, indicated she hoped for about 50 adults and children to take part in the rally, but expressed shock when triple that number arrived.
“I have a neighbor who moved in about six months after we did, seven years ago,” she said. “He and his kids have serious respiratory issues now. They don't go out and play. In fact, they stay inside to wait for their school bus to arrive, and he invites other children at the same stop to move inside.
“Over the last two years, everything has become worse,” she continued. “I started developing a chronic cough, and I've been to allergy specialists and undergone testing. They can't figure out what's wrong with me. There's a rotten egg odor that permeates the area, and it's hydrogen sulfide. That's considered toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency, the CDC and OSHA.
“You know, even the fire department has come out to respond to complaints about the odor, but there's Pond View (officials), saying they're not responsible for the problem. They've said at public meetings, 'It's not us.'”
Durfee distributed a “Facts about TLA-Pond View” informational sheet, and one paragraph revealed, “The owners of the land and business do not live in our city. They blame other businesses for the dust; however, at a DEM public comment hearing on Oct. 22, 2010, Ken Foley stated, 'Yes, there is dust in the pond.'”
“At another meeting,” Durfee noted, “Jack Walsh (of TLA-Pond View) said he wouldn't eat the fish out of Omega Pond, and advised his employees not to. What does that tell you?”