I-Team tips off state to problem properties

About 50 discarded laboratory bottles are found at a potentially dangerous hazardous waste site in Portsmouth.

A short walk off of Burma Road in Portsmouth confirmed what the NBC 10 I-Team was told.

In the woods, in view of the public, the I-Team discovered 12 metal barrels covered in rust and surrounded by overgrown brush. The I-Team called state investigators at the Department of Environmental Management.

"Potentially, there could be hazardous materials in the form of oil, sludge, things like that," said John Leo, a DEM emergency responder.

The I-Team showed DEM a second site, just down the road from the first, where we found as many as 50 discarded laboratory bottles. Some of the bottles were filled with soil, some were empty.

"Kind of messy, let's put it that way. I definitely would not want to see it like this," Leo said.

The sites are located off picturesque Weavers Cove.

The DEM contacted the property owner, Melville Associates, where the barrels were found. The discarded debris and barrels were moved off site and secured nearby. The contents will now be tested.

But will the company face any fines or penalties?

"In some instances you actually have sites that have been documented that there's hazardous waste. It remains, sometimes, for up to three or more years. That is totally unacceptable," said a former state employee, who didn't want to be identified.

The employee, who has 30 years of experience with environmental crimes, pointed the I-Team to other contaminated and hazardous waste sites where the outcome is still murky.

On Brayton Road in Tiverton, DEM investigators found waste illegally dumped in 2010 on a property used as race track for bicycles. Tests confirmed high levels of lead. The waste still remains, while an open investigation is ongoing. The property owner is listed as Camaco Holdings, of Tiverton. Attempts to reach the owner were unsuccessful.

In Cumberland, water flows from an auto salvage yard on Curran Road. The company, Advanced Auto Recycling, is owned by auto salvage giant LKQ, based out of Chicago.

The dispute there has been an ongoing environmental and legal battle for years.

However, pictures taken in December appear to show some type of sheen still floating on top of the water running off the property toward the Happy Hollow Reservoir.

Louis Paolino owns the land next door and, his testing, he claims, shows high levels of oil and grease.

"The only fine that I know about is a $2,600 fine and my belief is these people are in violation of the Clean Water Act. In other states you face astronomical fines for doing this type of activity and it's not happening here in Rhode Island," said Paolino.

Calls placed to the property owner, Joseph Ferreira, were not returned.

David Chopy is head of the DEM's office of compliance and inspection. He sat down with the I-Team to answer questions that his agency isn't tough enough with alleged polluters.

"I know that might be a perception that's out there. I mean we go after everybody. Whether you're a big company or a small person, we've taken actions against lots of large companies to get them into compliance," Chopy said.

On Wednesday, the I-Team digs into the numbers of staffing and fines issued by the DEM.