Originally created 12/04/01

Gas site cleanup reviewed



The Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority wants independent confirmation of Atlanta Gas Light Co.'s reports that contamination from its Eighth Street cleanup site poses no threat to civic center property.

"They have documents saying there is contamination underneath the civic center, and their reports indicate there is no cause of any type of health concern," said Sam Nicholson, the authority's attorney.

"What we are doing is taking information we've gotten from Atlanta Gas and having it reviewed to determine whether or not there is a potential for liability on behalf of Atlanta Gas Light."

The contamination from Atlanta Gas Light's defunct manufactured gas plant will require a $50 million cleanup that includes digging out and paving almost a mile of the Augusta Canal and treating millions of gallons of groundwater.

The company already has spent $10 million to remove 23,000 tons of soil and 95,000 gallons of coal tar, and has paid $7.3 million to settle a property damage lawsuit in which Atlanta Gas acquired a church and 30 properties.

The plant manufactured gas from 1852 to 1955. During those years, coal tar - which contains cancer-causing materials such as benzene and naphthalene - seeped into soil and water.

Although the source area is a small piece of real estate, the contamination has spread much farther.

The coliseum authority's concern stems from studies that show a broad, egg-shaped plume of groundwater contamination moving toward the Savannah River, Mr. Nicholson said.

So far, the plume - within bedrock 75 to 100 feet deep - has migrated to property beneath the civic center, Bell Auditorium, federal courthouse, several churches and other downtown areas.

But those deep groundwater problems are no threat to public health because residents use the city water system and don't rely on wells, said Shawn Davis, a spokesman for the environmental company conducting the cleanup.

"None of the soil borings on the civic center property show any MGP (manufactured gas plant) residuals, nor does the shallow groundwater show any MGP residuals," Mr. Davis said.

The planned cleanup mainly involves work at the plant site that eventually will cause the flow of contaminated groundwater to slow and move back toward the original source.

"There is absolutely no operation that would be done on the civic center property," Mr. Davis said, and added that monitoring activities will continue at the site for as long as 30 years.

Atlanta Gas has made two presentations to the coliseum authority in efforts to keep nearby property owners apprised of cleanup activities, Mr. Davis said.

"We went before them again in October, to actually go over the type of equipment that would be used, to bring the deep bedrock groundwater up to a residential standard consistent with the approved state plan."

State regulators approved the cleanup plan March 30.

Mr. Nicholson said it is too soon to determine whether the authority would consider any legal action against Atlanta Gas.

"We don't really have anything definite yet because we haven't gotten our report back."

SITE CLEANUP

  • The manufactured-gas plant at Eighth Street and Walton Way operated from 1852 to 1955, creating huge volumes of a waste byproduct called coal tar.
  • Coal tar - which contains cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and naphthalene - contaminated soil, groundwater and the Augusta Canal.
  • The cleanup - a three-year, $50 million project - was approved in March by Georgia's Environmental Protection Division.
  • The three-area project involves digging out impacted surface soil, pumping out contaminated groundwater and rebuilding portions of the Augusta Canal.
  • GROUNDWATER

  • Dangerous chemicals have migrated into bedrock 75 to 100 feet below properties such as the civic center, post office and Bell Auditorium.
  • Because the chemicals are too deep to dig out, the remediation plan involves pumping out contaminated groundwater to remove the chemicals.
  • Residents use city water, so no one is drinking groundwater from the affected area, cleanup officials say.
  • The "pump-and-treat" technology will require monitoring for up to 30 years, but are expected to stop the spread of contamination.