PODCASTEnvironmentally Speaking EP 49: The Woodstock of Clean-Ups!

August 27, 20220

Transcript: The Woodstock of Clean-Ups!

CLARICE:  Hello, everybody.  Thank you for tuning in to Environmentally Speaking.MARISA:  Hi, everybody.  I’m Marisa Desautel an environment attorney in Rhode Island.

CLARICE:  And I’m Clarice.  I’m coming in with our questions, comments, and topics.  And selfishly I picked today’s topic because we don’t talk about water enough. Yeah.

MARISA:  Well, and this is a bit of an uplifting topic.


MARISA:  So that’s more your –

CLARICE:  That’s my jam.

MARISA:  That’s your jam.

CLARICE:  That’s what I bring to the table.

MARISA:  So what is it?

CLARICE:  I found an article on ecoRI’s website.  I think it’s – let me see.  Let me go back to the site, ecoRI news.  It’s a website that does a bunch of environmental stories going on around the state and I always like to check it to see if there’s anything interesting that we can talk about.  And this article title really caught my eye, Time to Zap Blackstone Again.



MARISA:  Z-a-p?

CLARICE:  Yeah.  At first I thought is it zap like when folks shock their pools.  Is it like a ton of chlorine.  Like what’s happening.

MARISA:  Oh, yeah.  That’s a good guess.

CLARICE:  And my first concern was what’s living in the water.  Why are we suddenly shocking a river.  But it is not that, so.

MARISA:  Okay.

CLARICE:  To the author, good title, Frank.  It was written by Frank Carini so nicely done.

MARISA:  Yeah.  Shout-out to ecoRI.  They are an excellent resource for environmental reporting.  In fact, they’re the only resource for environmental reporting.  The Providence Journal does have an environmental section, but ecoRI is strictly environmental, so check them out if you haven’t and you can follow them on social media.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  They’re a great resource to look into.  So this piece, as I kept reading, has nothing to do with shocking the river like you would your pool at home.

MARISA:  Okay.

CLARICE:  And I thought this opening line was phenomenal.  The Woodstock of cleanups was held September 9th, 2072, along the Blackstone River.  We’ve got Zap.  We’re talking about Woodstock.


CLARICE:  They make references to bell bottoms.  I was like, this is a good piece to pick.

MARISA:  Yeah.  And wasn’t there live music –


MARISA:  — at the event in 1972?

CLARICE:  Yes.  I will get to that.  So what is this event that I keep hinting at.  Back in the early ‘70s there was a cleanup effort surrounded around the idea of fixing the Blackstone River which goes through Central Falls and it was the largest single-day cleanup effort in the nation’s history at the time.


CLARICE:  It was such a big deal.  It made national news and afterwards they had a party to celebrate everybody’s efforts and all the work they’ve done and Peter Seeger came to sing.

MARISA:  Pete Seeger.  Wow.

[0:03:01] CLARICE:  Yeah.

MARISA:  Yeah.  He was hot in 1972.  That must have been a good time.

CLARICE:  That was his year.  So they’re calling it the Woodstock of cleanup efforts and this article essentially talks about what a monumental effort it was, how it was purely sort of a grassroots campaign, the idea of people just going around, word of mouth, spreading news, joining in the fact that they were all united in cleaning up this river.  And to give some background and context of how bad the site was, they had pulled out 10,000 tons of debris.

MARISA:  Ten thousand tons?

CLARICE:  Tons.  You measure elephants in tons, folks.

MARISA:  Give me that number again.

CLARICE:  Ten thousand tons of debris.

MARISA:  What was it?

CLARICE:  Cars, tires –

MARISA:  Cars.

CLARICE:  — couches and a small bus.

MARISA:  You know, I’m laughing but it’s not funny.  I’m laughing because of the stupidity.  Even if you don’t know anything about environmentalism and trying to preserve and conserve, what is it about the human condition that makes people think, I’ve got a car that I don’t want, oh, look, a body of water, I’ll put it there.

CLARICE:  Never in the history of my mind have I ever thought that that was a plan.

MARISA:  I wish I could go back in time and ask those folks, why would you put it there.

CLARICE:  Here’s the thing.

MARISA:  Okay.

CLARICE:  You can’t.  You might not be able to ask the people who put the cars in there, but 50 years later the cleanup effort was called the Zap.  Not sure what it stands for.  The article didn’t make mention of it, but it was called the Zap which feels very hip and groovy.  On the 50-year reunion, they’re looking to do it again.

MARISA:  Whoa.  When is the 50-year reunion?

CLARICE:  August 27th.

MARISA:  Hey, that’s coming up.


MARISA:  Okay.

CLARICE:  So in a couple of weeks, they are looking to have volunteers come back and give Blackstone another cleanup.

MARISA:  Are they expecting cars and couches?



CLARICE:  Thankfully the good news is the river has started to come back.  It’s started to bounce back.  Downside is as of right now it is still not allowed to swim in it, not safe for fish at this point.  There’s sort of no marine life hanging out in there, or if there is it’s very little.  It is on Rhode Island’s list of impaired waters which I didn’t know that that existed.

MARISA:  Yeah.  The Department of Environmental Management maintains it and it gets updated frequently.

[0:05:52] CLARICE:  Yeah.  So I just pulled up the 2022 list and just giving it a brief overview at the start of the list they talk a little bit more, if folks are interested in reading, about what the Clean Water Act requirements are, how rivers and bodies of water are broken down.  They specifically make mention of a category five and category four.

MARISA:  Okay.

CLARICE:  So that kind of denotes which waters, I guess, are more impaired than others and more in need.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  But, yeah.  There’s been a lot of improvement.  They’re not going to be pulling out cars this time, but.

MARISA:  Okay.

CLARICE:  It seems that this area – and maybe not necessarily the body of water, but people are more thinking of that undeveloped area around it – still has some leftover debris.  There’s still current dumping happening on there, so they’re looking to give it a revitalization.  It’s time.

MARISA:  I know you mentioned you can’t swim or fish in the Blackstone.  Do you know what the pollutants are that still exist that causes it to be unswimable and unfishable?

CLARICE:  To be honest, the article didn’t go into specifically what pollutants.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  But my guess is they did talk a lot about the factories that used to be on the river’s edge.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  Specifically one factor that they mentioned was an old tire factory so used tires, things that weren’t able – messed up in production, waste of any sort, people were dumping them in the river.  So I think it’s really likely to kind of make that jump and say it was a lot of industrial waste.

MARISA:  So the industrial waste from at least 1972 still exists in the Blackstone?

CLARICE:  I believe that.

MARISA:  It persists.

CLARICE:  I don’t have proof of it.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  But I would say it probably still persists.  When we talked about our oil spill episode, we had shared a really interesting fact about how a drop of oil can spread so widely.

MARISA:  Yes.  Although, my guess is, without having looked at the list of impaired waters, if there were an active oil or gasoline or nasty contaminant that were just discovered or it was persisting DEM would have a more aggressive role in figuring out cleanup because the way that the federal Superfund program works – excuse me – is that when you’ve got a particular contaminant that’s when federal Superfund attaches.

But if you’re just talking about – the list of impaired waters usually is a list based on impairment from stormwater runoff, fertilizer runoff, nitrogen and phosphorus that are in fertilizer contaminate waters pretty easily and rapidly.  I don’t know if there’s any private septic systems in that area, but if those are failing the human sewage makes its way into the groundwater which ultimately then flows into the Blackstone.  So I’m wondering if that’s what it is.

[0:09:29] CLARICE:  I did a quick search just to see if we could get some more info on that and you hit the nail on the head.

MARISA:  Look at me.

CLARICE:  You hit all the boxes.  The only box you missed –

MARISA:  I’m usually full of shit but –

CLARICE:  — was cesspools.

MARISA:  — today –

CLARICE:  No.  It’s just the river.

MARISA:  Okay.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  So exactly like you said, cesspools, septic system, faulty septic systems, sewage leak, agriculture runoff, stormwater, and nitrogens and phosphorus and things like that, so.

MARISA:  Okay.


MARISA:  So what’s the date again of the cleanup?

CLARICE:  It is August 27th and we will link the article in our show notes.  And there is a place to sign up if you’re in the area if you’re interested in participating.  This effort, it looks like some of the original organizers –

MARISA:  No kidding.

CLARICE:  — or the original participants are going to be involved in this again which is kind of exciting.  Some folks who were interviewed talk about what it was like as a child to go and to help clean out with their friends.  One guy had talked about neighborhood kids coming together and just doing that for a day –

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  — which was really cool, so it sounds like they’re going to be back.  And if you’re interested it looks like efforts are going to go all the way up to Worcester.

MARISA:  No kidding.


MARISA:  Is that the entire length of the Blackstone?

CLARICE:  It doesn’t say if that’s the entire length.

MARISA:  I think it is.

CLARICE:  But it says that they’re extending it up that way.  I’d imagine there is some connection –

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  — for them to keep going.

MARISA:  Okay.

CLARICE:  So the river is coming back.  It’s not perfect, but I thought it was some interesting call to action.

MARISA:  Yeah. You know, we’re recording this on the 19th.  Hopefully it airs in time for folks to sign up and help out if they’re interested.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  So if you’re in the area, if you’re thinking what could I do with my Saturday, go clean up Blackstone River.

MARISA:  Will Pete Seeger be playing?

CLARICE:  I’ll call him.  I’m not sure.  I’ll give him a ring just to double check.

MARISA:  Because I’m sure he’s a major draw.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  I love it.  So on that note, some mild good news.  I mean, we still have our doom and gloom.  The river is not healthy but we’re getting there.

MARISA:  Yeah.  I’ll take it.

CLARICE:  And if you have anything that you would like for us to take, for us to look at, you can send it to Help@DesautelESQ.com.

MARISA:  Nice job.

[0:12:06] CLARICE:  Yes.  Nailed it.  Only 49 episodes, guys.  It’s a steep learning curve.  You can hit us up on all forms of social media if you’re more interested in a quick comment or want to drop a quick question and be less formal than an e-mail.  But let us know what are events in your area?  What are things you want us to talk about?  Do you have any questions about what cleanups look like?  We can look into it a little bit more.

MARISA:  Thanks, Clarice.

CLARICE:  Thank you.  Have a good one, everybody.  It’s not your fault.

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