DEM: Beach blast caused by ‘hydrogen combustion’

(Photo: Corey Welch/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Officials have announced the likely cause of a blast at Salty Brine Beach that injured a Connecticut woman earlier this month.

Scientists at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography determined the cause of the blast, the Department of Environmental Management said Friday during a news conference.

Dr. Arthur Spivack, an oceanographer with experience in geochemistry said the blast was likely 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.”

According to the DEM, the sand where the blast occurred “had unusually high levels of hydrogen.”

What ignited the blast is unclear, but Spivack said the blast was consistent with a hydrogen combustion. “We believe hydrogen was produced near the event in the sand a few feet down, that hydrogen essentially bubbled up,” he said.

The cable has since been removed from the area, and DEM officials insist the beach is safe.

Officials also said no other beaches in Rhode Island have cables like these under the sand.

Meanwhile, Governor Gina Raimondo commended the staff at URI for their speedy discovery.

“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,” Raimondo said Friday. “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.”

Kathleen Danise, of Waterbury, Connecticut, was transported to South County Hospital following the blast. The explosion threw her 10 feet into the air, according to officials.

She has since been released from the hospital.

DEM Director Janet Coit said they will continue to monitor the situation for further developments.

“We do plan to keep monitoring but have no concern to hydrogen levels at the moment or public safety,” she said.

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