DEM, URI Graduate School of Oceanography scientists announce likely explanation for Salty Brine State Beach incident

Posted on
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – July 24, 2015 – Governor Gina M. Raimondo and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit today praised scientists from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School Of Oceanography (URI GSO) for determining the cause of the July 11 combustion incident at Salty Brine State Beach in Narragansett.


According to Dr. Arthur Spivack, an oceanographer with expertise in geo-chemistry at URI GSO, it is very likely the incident was caused by the combustion of a build-up of hydrogen gas in the beach sand, due to the corrosion of an abandoned copper cable that was previously used by the United States Coast Guard (USCG).


“I’m grateful to the extraordinary scientists at URI, especially the team from the Graduate School of Oceanography, whose hard work led to this explanation,” said Governor Raimondo. “Having the talent and research expertise of the teams at URI to turn to for quick results has proven invaluable. I also want to thank the public for their cooperation and patience as we worked to reach this conclusion. Our top priority is keeping people safe, and our state agency staff — investigators and scientists — never lost sight of this goal. Rhode Island’s beaches are one of our most precious natural resources, and one of my family’s favorite ways to spend time together. I hope families across Rhode Island and visitors from around the country continue to take advantage of all our great state beaches and parks have to offer.”


Immediately following the July 11th incident, the RI State Police and the State Fire Marshal’s Office began an investigation that placed public safety as its top priority. Officials quickly ruled out a malicious attack, explosive materials or use of an incendiary device of any kind as the cause of the incident.


“The talented scientists at our world renowned Graduate School of Oceanography at URI have given us an explanation for what happened when the ground shook at our beach,” said Coit. “There was coordination and collaboration around the investigation from Colonel Steve O’Donnell and the RI State Police, the State Fire Marshal, USDA’s NRCS soil scientist Jim Turenne, and other state and federal government officials. We appreciate everyone’s dedication, expertise, and professionalism.”


As other lines of inquiry – such as a live electric cable – were exhausted, Director Coit requested help from a team of scientists from URI GSO, in cooperation with a soil scientist from the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.


According to Dr. Spivack, it is very likely the incident was caused by the combustion of a build-up of hydrogen gas in the beach sand, due to the corrosion of a remnant abandoned copper cable left in the area by the USCG.


Since determining the likely cause of the incident, DEM has removed the source of energy, aerated and swept the area, and the beach is safe and open to the public.


Director Coit emphasized the professionalism and conscientious work of the team working at DEM on this investigation. “They did an outstanding job, and their long hours and hard work are much appreciated,” she said.


This is an issue particular to Salty Brine State Beach, which is within the harbor of refuge at Galilee. To our knowledge, there are no other state beaches that have any such abandoned USCG cables and no other combustion incident has ever occurred at any other state beach.