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SANDUSKY, OH – Coal Tar Plume Update: EPA requests Fourth Hole :: Interview with Haag Environmental and Ohio EPA | Slideshow | Podcast

June 15, 2010

Full image of drill rig used for drilling the three (3) holes at the Coal Tar Plume on the Deepwater Marina property in Sandusky, OH. photo: Jenna Martin

After a year of public debate with conflicting information between environmental consultants, commissioners, and stonewalling from Sandusky International representatives at Brownfield and City Commission meetings, the Coal Tar Plume on the Deepwater Marina property in downtown Sandusky, OH, has finished drilling three (3) holes.

While the drilling for Coal Tar has resulted in the findings of a “White, blocky sheen; along with a dark, red/brown sheen in the water below 10 feet, and a brown oily substance that’s similar to the consistency of motor oil beneath the bedrock,” neither Haag Environmental or Malcom and Pirnie can identify this as “Coal Tar” until test results come back from a certified lab a month from now.

Haag Environmental will be able to assess whether or not the substance matches the previously tested coal tar, found above the bedrock, by comparing bar graphs that show the amount of what is in the tests. “It’s essentially a fingerprint,” suggested Lance Warner during Tuesday’s Brownfield meeting, which was confirmed by Bob Haag to be a good metaphor. At the end of the month they can line the two bar graphs alongside each other and see if they share an equal structural amount of known substances. The issue of concern is whether or not the substance being tested is the same coal tar found in areas above the bedrock, or whether they’re dealing with a separate incident.

In a different discussion at the Brownfield meeting Bob Haag did indicate that the “patchy-white-blocky film” on top of the water was not separated and taken to the lab for testing. This was in response to a question by Mark Harrington, from Sandusky International, about whether or not they took samples of that substance to the lab for testing.  In this case, Haag Environmental has no answer for what that film might be.

What Haag Environmental can answer is that Partners Environmental, who a year ago appeared before the commission and gave their expert opinion on the issue, were incorrect when proclaiming to the 2009 commission that no unusual tar-like substance would be found beneath the bedrock. This, in a sense, has re-solidified the publics trust in Haag Environmental and shifted a positive light on city commissioners Dan Kaman, and Dave Waddington, who formerly supported the drilling for coal tar when Partners questioned its necessity.

One projection that’s off-track is the drilling costs. Initially, the project cost to drill for coal tar began at an estimate around $45,000, but is now up to $80,000 (an increase said to be from Malcom Pirnie staffing costs). This price increase is still covered by a $200,000 grant being used for the drilling, but is a concern given the recent request from the Ohio EPA and USEPA to drill a fourth hole. The suggested fourth hole was brought to the table after Gary Thomas (owner of Deepwater Marina property) alerted the EPA offices of a sewer pipe on the property that once ejected “steam and a colored liquid.” Acting City Manager, Don Icsman, is aware of the request and expected to make a decision sometime in the next 24 hours.

Update – 06/28/10: after a phone call with Haag Environmental, they’ve concluded that Malcom Pirnie is preparing to drill the fourth hole on W. Water Street in the public right-of-way, in front of the canopy on the building owned by Sandusky International. This hole will show whether or not the coal tar spread west of where it’s predicted to be.

After drilling the fourth hole, Karla Auker (Ohio EPA) decided that there’s still not enough known about how deep and wide the coal tar is. Currently the substance is found to be at least 15 feet deep.

Commissioner Julie Farrar responded to the most recent briefing by asking if opening up wells is actually making the problem worse than it is. Ruth Haag promptly responded by saying that it will not make anything worse, but that the current issue is coal tar that’s releasing into the bay. “We want to stop the coal tar from going into the bay,” responded Ruth Haag to commissioner Farrar’s question at the most recent commission meeting.

Concerns are well noted in response to a Brownfield approach for cleaning up the coal tar. Brownfields allow for more flexibility in how and where a property is remediated. For instance, the former metal plating company, Bechtel-Mcglaughlin, Inc., expelled hazardous waste onsite and offsite, but – within a brownfield program – the EPA only needs to focus on onsite cleanup. This left waterways that were known to be polluted by Bechtel untouched in any of the remedial work. The concern with environmentalists and watershed action groups is that the same type of neglect may also happen when cleaning up the coal tar plume. (read more about Bechtel-Mclauglin and Brownfields)

Brownfields are contingent upon the existence of development. A Brownfield can continue to be remediated and be funded under the expectation that’s it’s going to be developed. In the event that development no longer becomes absolute the EPA can withhold the funding for a particular site and use it in a more opportunistic area. This is why some environmentalist suggest that the coal tar plume be listed as a Superfund Site, so as to ensure proper cleanup.

Traditionally Superfunds are an enduring scar within a city and must be measured to be significant enough to fall into the program. This citation is being refuted and may be false» But Sandusky has already encountered five Superfund Sites: American Quality Stripping, Bechtel-Mclaughlin, Inc., Delco Moraine, Ford Motor Company and NASA Plum Brook. (sites documented in EPA files on Monday August 11th, 1997)

The continued drilling increases the risk of workers being exposed to Benzo(a)pyrene, a cancerous substance found in coal tar. Haag Environmental commented that since the coal tar can be visually identified, and has a strong odor, workers will have time to prevent toxic exposure to the chemical. There’s also the risk to “unknowns” – substances that are not yet identified. Unkowns and benzo(a)pyrene are known to be moving into the bay, and have been cited by boaters over the years who witnessed bubbles rising from beneath the waters surface in Deepwater Marina.

Listen to the recordings below for a complete discussion on the substance being found beneath the bedrock, the toxic concerns addressed at the site, who’s involved, the recent Brownfield discussion about coal tar, and if the new Hoty Marina on the Tricor property is an issue of cross-contamination.


(Note: this recording may take a minute to load: please be patient. Also, some recordings do not play well on built-in computer speakers; and would require headphones or a strong set of speakers attached to your computer.)

Interview with Haag Environmental and Ohio EPA | June 2010 | Podcast

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(Note: this recording may take a minute to load: please be patient. Also, some recordings do not play well on built-in computer speakers; and would require headphones or a strong set of speakers attached to your computer.)

Brownfield Meeting | June 2010 | Coal Tar Plume Discussion | Podcast

Subscribe to our free Podcast “On The Wire” to receive weekly audio trimmings of recordings in Erie County, OH.


Drill rig being prepared for the third hole. photo: Jenna Martin

From the left: Ruth Haag (Haag Environmental), Brian Patterson (Ohio EPA), and Bob Haag (Haag Environmental) discussing updates about drilling on-site at the Deepwater Marina property. photo: Jenna Martin

Tricor Marina, part of the Chesapeake agreement, being prepared about 150 yards east of the Coal Tar Plume drilling. photo: Jenna Martin

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