Read the full article by Brian P. D. Hannon (Eco Rhode Island News)

“Tom Grieb walks the trails around Lower Melville Pond on Aquidneck Island. This has been his only exercise since he decided a gym was counterproductive at his age. The area also served as his escape from home isolation during the early lockdown days of the pandemic.

‘This is gorgeous,’ he said, looking across the still body of water formed by a dam at a corner of the pond. In the opposite direction, Narragansett Bay is visible a few hundred yards below. ‘This is why I want to make sure it’s preserved properly.’

Grieb is worried about the quiet waters framing his walking route through the forest and open areas in Melville Park. As a member of the Naval Station Newport Restoration Advisory Board, he is acutely aware of toxins leaching into the area’s waterways, including eight small ponds, and a shelf in Narragansett Bay fronting his neighborhood. He said the pollution originates from the military base’s properties on the higher ground nearby that stored fuel, a refueling depot operated there from 1900 to the mid-1970s, and other materials.

The substances drawing the concern of Grieb and other area residents include the class of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are also known as “forever chemicals” because of their failure to break down in the environment over time. The substances are commonly found in flame-suppressing foam at airports and military installations where large amounts of fuel are commonly stored. These harmful chemicals have been detected in food, drinking water and animals, including fish. A bill to regulate PFAS levels in Rhode Island drinking water did not survive the 2021 General Assembly session.

The route Grieb takes from his backyard to Lower Melville Pond includes a walk along train tracks owned by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) that are only used in a limited capacity, mostly in the summer and fall for a dinner train and pedal-powered rail bicycles — a quiet stretch with rising land covered in trees and vegetation on one side and a rocky slope down to the bay on the other.

The tracks intersect a working boatyard. There is also water; pond and rain overflow and accumulated groundwater running strong in some spots, and in other places lying in small pools dyed orange with rust and an oily substance producing a shiny film.

The retiree who spent years working in engineering management for Exxon said the sheen is the byproduct of waste from the Naval base, whose border is marked by a tall, chain-link fence along one of the paths near the pond, where he said the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) populates the water with fish for anglers.”…