UPDATED: Con Ed recommends putting wells in ST/PCV to recover contaminants from former gas plant

Mar13 Con Ed

The gas works and storage tanks of Con Ed’s predecessor company in 1890. (Photo courtesy of Con Ed)

UPDATE: Con Ed has changed the date and venue of the upcoming meeting. It will be on Wednesday, November 1 at 7 p.m. at Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s Podell Auditorium in the Bernstein Building, 10 Perlman Place, one block west of First Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets, according to an email sent to neighbors from the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association.

By Sabina Mollot

As most people who live in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village know, the property is the site of the former Gashouse District, named for the Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) stations and facilities run by Con Ed and its predecessor companies.

In recent years, the utility has been conducting an investigation in and around ST/PCV, looking for contaminants in the ground, groundwater and air. The investigation is being coordinated with the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the State Department of Health.

According to the study’s findings from investigations in 2006 and 2008, contaminants were found, but located deep in the ground (at least five feet) with most even lower, and in groundwater beneath the site, though that water is not used for drinking. MGP residential levels tested in the air indoors were found to be typical. Outdoor air samples collected were also found to be normal for an urban area. Because of this, Con Ed said in an advisory this week that it’s unlikely people will come into contact with these contaminants, though air monitoring will continue.

Still, the company is now proposing a “remediation” (cleanup) plan for the site that involves, among other things, the placement of wells.

Con Ed will hold a public meeting on October 24 at 7 p.m. at MS 104 to discuss the plan, which includes:

“Passive product recovery wells” to remove MGP materials like coal tar that’s below the ground. Con Ed has said the wells would be placed in locations that are unobtrusive to the tenants and owner. There would be 10 placed in Peter Cooper, home to the former East 21st Street gas plant, and six in Stuy Town, home to the former 17th and 19th Street stations and the former East 14th Street gas works. While the size and location of the wells have yet to be determined, according to Con Ed spokesperson Bob McGee, they would resemble small manhole covers that are flush with the ground.

Another proposal is a deed restriction aimed at preventing exposure to any MGP materials that have remained onsite.

Con Ed also recommends prohibiting any intrusive activities, including making sure any subsurface work is done in a safe manner.

When asked why the wells need to be there if residents aren’t expected to be impacted by the contaminants under the ground, McGee said the goal is to prevent remaining contaminants from spreading.

“DEC’s goal is to remove contamination where it is feasible and to prevent further migration of contamination and possible exposure to people and the environment,” he said.

The MGPs were gas plants operated from the 1800s to the mid-1900’s before natural gas was used. Their purpose was to convert coal and oil into gas for heating, lighting and cooking. The process created by-products and waste such as tar and purifier wastes, the latter being formed during the filtration of gas.

The substances of concern related to these operations include: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene (BTEX) compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and a few metals. BTEX compounds are volatile hydrocarbons found in MGP products as well as most petroleum products such as gasoline. PAHs are also found in MGP byproducts as well as many petroleum products, such as asphalt.

Following the investigation, which was in the works since 2004, Con Ed announced that it would be discussing its proposals at a public meeting on Tuesday, October 24 at 7 p.m. at Simon Baruch Middle School (MS 104). At the meeting, those in attendance will get a chance to review proposal documents and ask questions.

Public comments in writing will be accepted through November 10 and should be submitted to Douglas MacNeal, project manager at the DEC at douglas.macneal@dec.ny.gov or 625 Broadway, Albany, NY, 12233.

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