Scientists pursue specific cause of mystery beach blast

AP News
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Posted: Jul 23, 2015 12:41 PM

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Scientists trying to figure out the reason why a mysterious beach blast that sent a woman flying into a jetty are now pursuing a specific cause, Rhode Island's top environmental official says, but she isn't disclosing their theory until testing is finished.

Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit initially thought the mystery might never be solved. Now, she's optimistic it will be, saying scientists have "narrowed it down."

"It's looking like we will either know, or have a very good theory," she said.

A Waterbury, Connecticut, woman was thrown into a jetty at Narragansett's Salty Brine beach after a loud boom July 11. Investigators didn't find evidence of an explosive device.

Scientists began looking at whether the soil is suitable for gases or chemicals that can cause explosions, such as hydrogen and methane.

The scientists are still assessing the sediment samples, Tom Miller, the coordinator for the scientific team, said Thursday. He said they're sending their conclusions to other scientists as part of the peer review process, to ensure that the conclusions they are drawing are scientifically accurate, feasible and credible.

Three scientists from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, graduate students and a technician have made the project a priority, added Miller, the director of administration at the oceanography school.

Coit said she speaks with the team several times a day and she expects to have some conclusions to share by next week.

"We're going to make sure that when we say it, it has been corroborated and we have clear evidence," she said. "We're not at that point yet."

She said the state is fortunate to have world-class experts at the oceanography school, with equipment and labs that can test gases at a minute level.

The beach fully reopened Tuesday. A section had been cordoned off after the incident.