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Gas company to clean up pollution



Published: Fri, September 8, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Soil tests show chemical contaminants caused by oil or gas manufacturing.

MARION, Ohio (AP) -- A company's plan to clean up pollution under homes on the former site of a gas plant that operated more than 100 years ago has other residents wondering what decades-old hazards could lurk under their homes.

Emily Thompson lives near the neighborhood where Columbia Gas of Ohio is buying 18 houses where it says a plant manufactured gas for the central Ohio town's streetlights from the late 1800s until the early years of the 20th century. She said seeing the houses being boarded up and finding out about contamination made her think about what could be beneath her own home.

"When they said Linden Place, I knew it was not that far away," she said.

Samples of the soil in the Linden Place neighborhood have shown a group of chemical contaminants typically found where oil or gas manufacturing has taken place, said Dina Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The soil also appears to contain higher-than-recommended levels of lead, which is probably connected to the lead-based paint that was commonly used on homes before being banned in the 1970s, Pierce said.

The houses in the area were built by a developer around 1910 or 1915, Columbus Gas spokesman Ray Frank said.

What was done

Soil samples were analyzed by experts who determined there was no immediate health risks for residents, Frank said, and it's unlikely the contamination spread to other areas.

"We have no reason to believe the footprint would extend beyond the properties," he said. "This is a caramel taffy sticky goop, if you will. It's buried beneath the surface, and there's no reason to indicate it's anywhere else."

Studies have shown children who eat or breathe in flaking lead paint chips or dust can suffer brain damage and other health problems. Cancer has developed in people who have, over long periods of time, inhaled or touched mixtures that contain chemicals in the other group of contaminants found, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The company decided to purchase and demolish the houses because of concerns that they were not structurally sound enough to withstand the excavation that may be necessary to clean up the roughly two-acre site, Frank said.

Columbia Gas never owned or operated the former Marion Gas Co., but the company discovered a relationship between the two through a series of ownership changes, Frank said. The company has volunteered to perform the clean up, which was not ordered by the Ohio EPA.

Anywhere from 3,000 to 30,000 manufactured gas plants like the one in Marion once operated across the country, Frank said. They stopped being useful once natural gas entered the market and pipelines were built to carry it to communities.

The plant heated coal and then trapped the gas that was produced, Frank said. A byproduct was coal tar, which was used for roofing materials and other purposes. Tarlike residue was found in the soil in the Marion neighborhood, he said.

What's underground

Linden Place resident Lindsey Conner, whose family will be the last to move, said she was surprised to find out a gas plant once operated where her home stands. She said her family has never had any health problems that she believes could be related to the contamination, but she did notice something unusual in her yard.

"I tried to plant something in my backyard once and kept running into brick," Conner said.

Other homeowners who are concerned about what could be beneath their houses can check out property records to see who previously owned the land, Pierce and other officials said. Sometimes a former owner's name can indicate its use.

Real estate agent John Boblenz said he always encourages prospective buyers to look at records. He also believes buyers should have a house inspected for potential hazards such as mold, although few do.

"I'm kind of a stickler. I want a lot of things," he said. "It ends up no one pays the extra money."




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