Grease trap deaths put spotlight on RI safety requirements

Call 12 For Action

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A desperate search for a missing 3-year-old ended in heartbreak Monday when the little boy was discovered in a grease trap outside of a fast-food chain in New York.

Frank Camp of the Rochester Police Department told CBS-affiliate WROC the boy’s death was a “horrifying situation.”

“We’re asked all the time what’s the worst thing that you encounter as a police officer and this is number one,” Camp said.

Police said a plastic lid on a grease trap – an underground tank used to keep grease from flowing into the sewer system – was not properly secured.

A similar tragedy unfolded in 2017 when 3-year-old Sadie Andrews drowned in an unsecured grease trap at an ice cream shop in Alabama.

“We prayed for a miracle, but it just didn’t happen that day,” her father, Tracy Andrews told WPRI sister station WRBL.

The incidents prompted Call 12 for Action to ask about grease trap safety regulations in Rhode Island.

According to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM), grease traps are permitted by the agency’s Onsite Wastewater Treatment System Program for commercial food establishments.

Owners are responsible to maintain the traps, which are required to have access manholes with tamper-resistant lids that are mechanically fastened.

In an email, DEM spokesperson Michael Healey said inspections are the responsibility of local sewer authorities based on municipal ordinances, but “If a trap were not properly secured, that would be an enforcement issue for DEM.”

Records show there have been no enforcement actions against restaurants for unsecured traps in the past several years, according to Healey.

According to the Narragansett Bay Commission, which services several communities including Providence, North Providence, Johnston, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Cumberland, and Lincoln, less than 10% of food service operations in the area have outdoor grease traps. Most use internal, under-the-sink units.

Susan Campbell ( is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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