From the early 1800s through the mid-1990s, manufactured gas plants (MGPs) littered the United States. Providing gas from coal or oil for lighting, heating and cooking, MPGs were operated nationwide. Today an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 former MGP sites still exist, according to the EPA. Though generally built on the outskirts of town, cities have since grown and these sites are now often located in inner city areas that are redeveloped. How is the nearest MGP site affecting you?
Before natural gas was available as an energy source, manufacturing gas from coal was a major step forward in technology and growth. Around the country streets were lit, which enhanced public safety, and businesses were able to work into the night. In addition to gas, these MGPs produced useful and marketable byproducts such as coal tar and lampblack. But despite the profit and promise of gas, manufacturing it from coal generated a lot of waste. Often the coal waste was dumped in nearby ditches or used as fill for construction projects, according to Dhs.wisconsin.gov. And today much of that waste – which includes cyanides, metals, solvents and oily tars – is found to be hazardous. What users may have thought was harmless, even recyclable since they reused it in such projects, is now thought to be one of the causes of cancer.
Spreading from California to New York, former MGP sites still exist and can be potentially hazardous. While most of the contamination is buried under soil and doesn’t pose a direct health risk, waste from the gas manufacturing processes can be found in soil, surface and ground water. According to Dhs.wisconsin.gov, coal tar can have several effects on a person including eye irritation, and if in contact with skin can cause redness, a rash or a sunburn effect. Though it’s uncommon, if contaminants from a MGP site entered our drinking water it would be a cause for concern.
What’s Being Done
Typically after a problem is reported, environmental service companies such as Sevenson go into these contaminated sites and handle the remediation of soil and water clean up. During the clean up, the area may experience the presence of odors, noise and heavy machinery. Contractors cleaning up a MGP site are trained to manage the site and monitor and control vapors from reaching levels of health concern for nearby residents. In many areas, local governments paired with health service departments are working to address and clean up former MGP sites. Some methods included in the clean-up process, according to Dhs.wisconsin.gov, include heating the contaminated soil to remove contaminants, extracting coal tars from the ground and transporting them off site and ultimately burning them as fuel or dumping them in an approved landfill.
What You Can Do
Report an MGP-related concerns, such as noise or odor complaints, to county officials. If you live near a former MGP site and have a well, consider testing the water. Tests should indicate if volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) or chlorinated solvents are present. Also attend public meetings that are related to MGP sites and ask questions to stay educated.
Guest post by Martin Valdez, a vegan environmentalist who loves crossword puzzles and Tetris, Martin would like to one day create a video game that is both entertaining and educational about how to protect our planet.