Block Island, an island off the mainland coast of Rhode Island, is considered to be a popular summer tourist destination and is home to historic lighthouses and gorgeous beaches. But a recent environmental report commissioned by the town found benzene present on the property of Block Island Power Co (BIPCo).
Sage Environmental, a national environmental company, performed several rounds of tests on the monitor wells. The benzene levels in five of the nine wells exceeded the standards of Department of Environmental Management (DEM), which is five parts per million (ppm). One well was as high as 570 ppm, while others showed benzene levels at 150 ppm, 12 ppm, 86.2 ppm, and 120 ppm.
The environmental company was brought in to assess the property before the Island voted on purchasing two-thirds of the company’s stock. But the ground pollution from volatile organic compounds (VOC) is a concern that has put the decision on hold. Their choices are either to create an expensive cleanup of the site, or allow “natural attenuation,” allowing the chemicals to slowly dissipate over time, which may take decades.
With benzene exceeding the DEM limit, questions have been raised on what should be done about it. It has the potential of leaching into groundwater, resulting in contamination.
When benzene fumes are inhaled for prolonged periods of time, the effects of exposure are often notable, include dizziness, drowsiness, or even unconsciousness depending on the level of exposure. Exposure to benzene is also linked to life-threatening diseases including Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and Aplastic Anemia.