Plastic waste and tap water raise questions at council meeting

Local resident Susan Glennon brought the issue of water waste to the council’s attention Monday while bearing a cardboard box filled with hundreds of straws. 


EAST GREENWICH–The town council heard an impassioned plea about the state of litter along the waterfront, much of which consists of disposable straws offered by the relatively few businesses that dot the scenic area. Possible issues concerning the quality of tap water throughout Kent County were also heard, but rebuffed.

Local resident Susan Glennon brought the issue to the council’s attention while bearing a cardboard box filled with hundreds of the potentially thousands of straws that she has picked up during her walks along the waterfront of Goddard Park.

“We are the Ocean State. We all know that plastics, straws and all those sorts of things are really doing a lot of damage to the ocean,” Glennon said. “All of these straws I have collected over the last few months, as many of 74 a day, that’s in a mile. Today I have collected 20.”

“The majority of those are black restaurant straws,” Glennon said. “I can’t imagine, what do we have? Four restaurants over there?”

Glennon recounted how she initially brought the problem to waterfront businesses in June, after having collected more straws than she could hold. At that time, she reports that the businesses she went to were also troubled by the litter but insisted that biodegradable paper straws were not an option, as they would become soggy when placed in frozen drinks.

“It’s just unbelievable how many straws are over there,” Glennon said. “And there’s all sorts of trash. Lots of plastic. Lots of straws. Lots of Styrofoam. And the Styrofoam is in such tiny little pebbles now. We should be aware of it, because this is our little section of the bay.”

Glennon also expressed concern over the plastic as it related to water quality. After reading an article that had appeared online that derided the quality of tap water in the town, Glennon was shocked to find it reported that over 200 contaminants linked to myriad health issues had been found in the water supply.  The story, however, is a bit more complex than such alarmism, as council member Michael Donegan explained.

“Just to be clear, we don’t have a water supply,” Donegan said. “This is Kent County water.”

Indeed, like most towns in the southern half of the state, East Greenwich purchases its water from the Kent County Water Authority, which publishes its water quality reports publicly on its website. The latest report found that the town’s water had traces of copper equal to .007 mg per liter, far and away under the established limit of 1.3 mg per liter.

Much of the alarm raised by articles, such as the one Glennon read, often owes to irresponsible writing that attempts to establish a correlative or even causal relationship between data points. The article in question, in fact, measured the existence of chemicals in the water supply, which are not actually limited by law or which have not been scientifically demonstrated to be harmful in trace amounts, despite the article’s deliberate attribution of that term to them.

Donegan arranged to have an environmental engineer speak to the council about the article and its merits or lack thereof, and town manager Andy Nota joined in the effort to assuage any unease at the data presented therein.

“What you’ll find in reading that article,  if you don’t know a lot about the subject, it is a concern,” Nota said. “But actually, the majority of those levels are within acceptable limits by particular standards. That doesn’t mean that you have to agree with those standards as they are set.”

Donegan, who has 30 years of experience as an environmental attorney, agreed and said that the evidence that a plausible risk to health existed was simply not there.

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