At the turn of the century, it was a big deal for Abilene to have street lights fed by natural gas.
Today, 106 years later, the site that produced the natural gas is contaminated.
Not to worry, said John Cook, geologist with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
It would take long-term exposure to the contaminants, which are located in a fenced half-acre on the southeast corner of Mulberry and SW Second streets.
A Corrective Action Study has been conducted by the property owner, ONE Gas of Tulsa, which plans to invest close to $7 million for the cleanup. Kansas Gas Service is a division of ONE Gas.
“It was a selling point for towns across the state, before there was a natural gas pipeline system, to have these manufactured gas plant sites,” Cook said.
The coal and coke were gasified when they were distilled in heated vessels and broken down into their components.
Soon the natural gas was going to homes for lighting.
“Then it got into cooking,” he said.
Those gas plants, called MGPS, went away when the natural gas fields in western Kansas were discovered and a pipeline established.
However, the byproduct called coal tar remains.
Coal tar is black with an adhesive-like or “sticky” texture and looks like and has an odor similar to roofing tar.
“Like most industrial processes, there are wastes that are produced,” Cook said.
This waste left behind is tar-like and heavy.
“They don’t leak much and they don’t travel much,” he said. “It was common practice to dispose of the tarry waste in tar wells, just a shallow pit, for the most part.”
According to the KDHE report, from 1913 to 1926, the gas plant generated between 5 million and 22.5 million cubic feet of gas.
“It is assumed that relatively small amounts of MGP residuals were produced as compared to other MGPs,” according to the report.
While some of the tar was repurposed in dandruff treatment products and ink, some was left behind.
In 2005, ONE Gas removed about 280 tons of soil and debris inside the gas holder tank, about 30 tons of oil and debris inside the tar structure about 205 tons of soil and debris outside of and between the tar structure and the gas holder tank.
While 515 tons of contaminated soil and waste have been removed from the site and disposed in an approved hazardous-waste landfill, residual soil contamination remains.
“ONE Gas has been very proactive,” Cook said.
“Kansas Gas Service is committed to helping protect human health and the environment for residents who live in and around our service territories,” said Dawn Tripp, public relations manager for Kansas Gas Service. “As such, the remediation plan of the 100-year-old former MGP site includes extensive removal of debris, use of technology for ‘in place’ stabilization of remaining residues, installation of treatment wells to enhance bio-remediation and continued monitoring. The entire remediation project proposal spans a 30-year period.”
Sampling in 2015, 2016, and 2017 showed benzene, ethylbenzene, naphthalene and arsenic remain.
He said that even if someone was digging and the skin came into contact with the contaminants, an exposure would most likely not end up with an adverse effect.
“You would have to be exposed to them every day for several days to months,” he said. “It depends on the toxicology and the epidemiology of it.”
KDHE identified remedial action objectives which include:
1) preventing human exposure through direct contact with contaminated soil,
2) preventing human exposure through direct contact and/or ingestion of contaminated groundwater, and
3) restoring groundwater conditions to the extent practicable.
According to the Comprehensive Investigation Study Report, the corrective action goals are meant to reduce contamination levels below Residential and Non-Residential RSKs in soil and groundwater. Groundwater monitoring will continue following completion of the project.
Public notice of the availability of the draft Agency Decision Statement and other selected administrative file documentation will be available for review at the Abilene Public Library, 209 NW Fourth, through Sept. 18
“We want to give the public the opportunity to read the documents,” Cook said.
Information is online at www.kdheks.gov/remedial/site_restoration/FMGP_Abilene.html.
Public comments may be submitted to KDHE in writing during the public comment at KDHE, Bureau of Environmental Remediation, 1000 SW Jackson St., Suite 410, Topeka, KS 66612.