The Providence Fire Department responded to a submarine fire in the Port of Providence at 9:34am Monday morning as black smoke filled the air from RI Recycled Metals, an unlicensed scrap yard. The source of the fire turned out to be a decommissioned Russian submarine.
The submarine, once featured in the Harrison Ford movie K-19: The Widowmaker, was briefly a floating museum, before it sank in a storm. Under water for years, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management ordered the unlicensed RI Recycled Metals to remove the submarine from the water and scrap it. That process was under way this morning when a rubber seal inside the metal of the submarine hull ignited while workers cut the hull in pieces with welding torches.
Providence Fire Chief Stephen Capracotta said one firefighter suffered a minor injury, otherwise no one was hurt. But the fire in the Port, and the plume of black smoke in the air, worried Washington Park residents, an area that already suffers from some of the highest asthma rates in all of New England and the United States.
Residents around the Port have long called for an end to the kind of toxic businesses that have proliferated by the Bay in Providence. They can point to a list of disasters and near disasters over the past six years, including an ethanol train derailment on Allens Avenue, a fuel truck overturning and spilling its contents on the Route 95 on ramp, and a gas pipeline explosion behind a strip club. One year ago there was a successful neighborhood effort to oppose yet more toxic industry, a garbage transfer station at the corner of Allens and Thurbers Avenue.
“This is why we need bold legislation to change the port now,” said Monica Huertas, a long time environmental justice activist who leads the People’s Port Authority. She sent these words to state Representatives and Senators:
“There was another emergency in the Port of Providence this morning that spewed deadly pollutants into my neighborhood. A fire got started at one of the scrap metal facilities along Allens Avenue, where dozens of toxic industrial facilities are located.
“I have been fighting for years to stop disasters like this one from impacting my community and polluting our air and water. It all got started for me after having to take my young child to the hospital seven times in one year because of their intense asthma attacks from the polluted air. While Rhode Island as a whole has the ninth highest asthma rates in the country, Providence has the highest asthma rate in the state. Kids like mine are frequently sent to the emergency room from breathing the polluted air in our neighborhood.
“That’s why I’ve been working for years with other community groups to find a solution. Over the past year, I have helped to form Renew Rhode Island, a coalition of 21 grassroots organizations fighting for good jobs, affordable housing and food, and clean air and water. We have developed a plan to clean up the Port and to make the neighborhood safer for residents like me, ultimately improving the air and water quality in our entire state. It’s known as Green Justice Zones (H5674 and S0540) and it would eliminate polluting facilities within the Port and fund environmental remediation projects.”
- The fight for Rhode Island’s Green New Deal begins in the General Assembly
- Renew RI Coalition launches with aggressive, Green New Deal-inspired legislative initiative
- Sunrise wants Majority Leader Blazejewski to actually support the Green New Deal
Providence City Councilmember Pedro Espinal (Ward 10) also released a statement today, congratulating the Fire fighters on a job well done, but also calling for change:
“Today’s fire was yet another example of why I have been advocating for eliminating these types of businesses in South Providence, and indeed the whole City. This area has the highest rates of childhood asthma in the state, and we are ninth in the nation, and it’s because of businesses like these.
“The scrap yards along Allens Avenue are continually polluting our neighborhoods, and we were lucky that what occurred today was quickly contained. What would happen if it was an oil tanker? It would have been a disaster.”
Councilmember Espinal has been a proponent of transitioning the Port to cleaner and safer businesses and practices since his election.
I also spoke to Linda Perri, who heads up the Washington Park Neighborhood Association. “I want to tree up Allens Avenue and have the offenders pay for it,” said Perri. She wants each offending business – polluters and dealers in dangerous chemicals and industries – to match city funds to plant trees along Allens Avenue.
Can you help Uprise RI?
Funding for our reporting relies on the generosity of readers like you. Our independence allows us to write stories that hold RI state and local government officials accountable. All of our stories are free and available to everyone. But your support is essential to keeping Steve and Will on the beat, covering the costs of reporting many stories in a single day. If you are able to, please support Uprise RI. Every contribution, big or small is so valuable to us. You provide the motivation and financial support to keep doing what we do. Thank you.
Here’s the Providence Fire Chief Stephen Capracotta press conference: