Partially treated sewage still flowing into the Blackstone River

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A sewage treatment plant in Rhode Island has been discharging only partially treated sewage into the Blackstone River all week, state environmental officials said Friday.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on Sunday warned residents to avoid the stretch of the river near the Woonsocket Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility.

The department said on Friday that the problem with the facility had not been resolved and partially treated sewage was still being discharged. Department spokesman Michael Healey said officials are concerned it’s taking so long and are investigating whether it’s an equipment or process failure.

Healey said the part of the system that’s supposed to process and separate solid human waste isn’t working. Normally this waste would be removed and incinerated, but now it is going into the river, he added.

“Of the things that can go wrong in a treatment center, this is the worst,” Healey said.

The processing facility is owned by the Town of Woonsocket. The city has a contract with Jacobs, a Texas-based consulting and engineering firm, to operate and maintain the plant. The mayor’s office and Jacobs did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment on Friday.

The facility treats between 6 and 8 million gallons of wastewater from Woonsocket and surrounding areas daily. The Environmental Management Service said it previously sent non-compliance letters to the facility in November 2021 and March 2022 regarding “operations and maintenance issues.”

Residents are asked to avoid swimming, boating or fishing in the river from Cumberland Hill Road in Woonsocket to Slater Mill Dam in Pawtucket, and to avoid eating fish from the Blackstone River.

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