Downtown Schenectady gas plant cleanup planned

Former coal gasification site is now mostly parking lots

SCHENECTADY — The state Department of Environmental Conservation has redesigned plans for a $10 million Superfund cleanup at a former coal gasification site in downtown Schenectady.

DEC is taking public comments through March 21 on the revised plans, which call for National Grid to pay for the cleanup of a 2.2-acre site at Broadway and Clinton Street, where a utility company previously operated a coal gasification plant. Today, the land is a parking lot for the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, with a seven-story MHA residential building called the Ten Eyck Apartments at the southern end of the site.

Initial DEC plans called for the removal and off-site disposal of about 11,000 cubic yards of coal-tar contaminated soil – an estimated 500 truckloads. That would have been followed by the replacement of an equal amount of clean soil. Monitoring wells would also be installed.

But after the city raised concerns about the plan, noting it would require extensive sheet piling along heavily traveled Broadway to shore up the excavating, and the large number of commercial trucks that use the road, DEC scaled back the project.

The amended plan calls for less soil being removed and the use of cement to hold contaminated soil in place, thereby reducing the risk that contamination will migrate into surrounding soil. DEC said the technique won’t require the use of pilings and should result in less project-related traffic.

The Clinton Street gasification plant operated from roughly 1851 to 1906, converting coal into a gas used for heating, cooking and lighting. A different gas plant then operated farther south on Broadway, near I-890, until 1950, and that site has been the subject of a different cleanup effort.

DEC said the Schenectady site was one of about 250 former manufactured gas plants located across the state, many of which left contamination behind. Coal tar, a byproduct, was generated during the manufacturing process and was sometimes disposed of on-site. The tar contains a number of toxic chemicals, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, DEC officials said.

A similarly contaminated site is being cleaned up in Saratoga Springs, and planning is underway for a gas plant cleanup project in Gloversville.

DEC said on-site testing has found groundwater contamination below the site, but no air impacts have been found inside the Schenectady MHA property. Parts of the site were excavated to remove contamination in 2013. The contaminated soil is generally between 15 and 50 feet below the ground surface, according to the DEC report.

“People will not come into contact with contaminated soil unless they dig or disturb the soil,” states a DEC fact sheet. Since people aren’t drinking the groundwater, DEC said the primary risk is of vapors from the soil getting into buildings.

There is also contamination from the gasification operation on the west side of Broadway, but that is being addressed as part of a separate project, DEC officials said.

Copies of the full project documents are on file at the Schenectady County Public Library on Clinton Street or at DEC’s Division of Environmental Remediation office in downtown Albany. Comments may be sent to DEC project manager John Spellman at [email protected], or to the state Department of Environmental Exposure Investigation at [email protected]

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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