Debris washes ashore in R.I. upper bay communities

PROVIDENCE – A recent storm inundated the East Providence wastewater treatment center, causing pinwheel-looking debris to wash ashore in a number of coastal communities.

The R.I. Department of Environmental Management received several reports of the rubbish – dubbed “media” – washing ashore in communities along the upper part of Narragansett Bay and the Providence River.

State officials determined the media – which is not considered dangerous or contaminated – flushed out of the East Providence sewage-treatment center during a powerful nor’easter on March 2.

DEM Director Janet L. Coit said her department is investigating the issue, but warned such occurrences are likely to become more commonplace as weather events are intensifying.

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“With more intense storms due to climate change, unfortunately, we will see more trash and debris carried by storm water into our waterways,” said DEM Director Janet L. Coit.

A recent Providence Business News report shows the number and strength of extreme-weather events growing in Rhode Island. The state has had 22 major disasters or emergency declarations since 1953 and more than one-third have happened in the last seven years.

Wastewater treatment facilities are uniquely exposed to extreme weather – especially flooding – as the public infrastructure is sited in low-lying areas throughout the state.

Coit said DEM will work with East Providence and the facility contractor to reduce the cause of excessive flow.

“We need to do more to prevent plastics from ending up in Narragansett Bay,” Coit said.

­Eli Sherman is a PBN staff writer. Email him at, or follow him on Twitter @Eli_Sherman.