Lakefront remediation has side-effect of tar pit odors - FOX 32 News Chicago

Lakefront remediation has side-effect of tar pit odors

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

A reminder of the lakefront’s industrial past has been in the air this month as odors from excavated tar pits north have wafted into neighborhoods above the bluff in north suburban Waukegan.

Ald. Lisa May said she is among the city officials who have heard complaints from constituents about the smell, especially on days when the wind blows off the lake, as it has been for much of this summer, she told the News-Sun.

“North Shore Gas is doing a cleanup of the old tar pits on Pershing Road,” May said Tuesday. “They’re cleaning up the ground, (and) when they’ve been hitting certain spots, they hit some really heavy areas where the ground is still full of tar.

“So it’s been emanating an odor for people up on Sheridan Road, and people as far west as Western Avenue have called me to complain about the odor,” may said.

Jennifer Block, a spokeswoman for Peoples Gas/North Shore Gas, told the News-Sun the company has taken measures to control the odors as work proceeds on the final stages of a $30 million cleanup.

“What we’re doing is removing historic underground foundations and moving 300,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil,” Block said. “Odors are coming out of the ground, (and) exacerbating the situation has been the prevailing winds and the weather conditions.”

Remediation of the 16-acre site at Pershing and Dahringer roads has been worked on since at least 2008 in collaboration with the U.S. EPA. According to a January 2014 report from the EPA, North Shore Gas parent Integrys agreed to work on removal of “volatile organic compounds and heavy metals” that remain on the site more than a half-century after it ceased to be a manufactured-gas plant (MGP).

“MGPs were industrial facilities that produced gas from coal, oil and other feedstocks,” the EPA report stated. “MGPs started operating in the U.S. in the early 1800s, typically in urban areas where gas was used for lighting, cooking, and heating.

“The processes used to produce the gas also produced waste and by-products such as tars, purifier waste, oils, sludges and acidic waste. On-site disposal of waste and spills and leaks often resulted in contaminated soil and groundwater. MGPs were often located near water bodies, and sediment contamination is also common.”

Specific to Waukegan, the North Plant, as it is called, opened in 1912 as a gas production and storage facility and closed in 1953, leaving behind a contaminated pond known to locals as the Waukegan Tar Pit. From 1953 to 1965, the property was used by a propane supplier.

The EPA reports that structures on the site containing propane, oil and tar were dismantled and removed in 1966 and 1968. North Shore Gas reportedly removed 25,000 tons of tar in 1968, and additional excavation work was performed in 1992.

The EPA report adds that historical records indicate “the potential for contamination and migration of contaminants” was heightened during plant demolition activities, “including the rupture of a relief holder unit which released 400,000 gallons of water, tar emulsion and tar to the soil.”

Block said this week that measures used to mitigate the tar odors during the current excavation include application of odor-controlling foam and plastic liners. In addition, air-monitoring equipment has been installed, and also a system of tubes along the property line that release fruit-scented mist.

May acknowledged that the company was “all over it immediately trying to reduce the odor,” but said she was still getting complaints from constituents.

She said situations like this will have to be dealt with as long as remediation efforts are necessary.

“People like to say, whoever’s in office at the time, it’s their fault the lakefront isn’t getting developed,” she said. “Honestly, it’s no one’s fault. It’s taking years and years. I mean, look how long the (Outboard Marine Corporation) plant has taken. It takes years and years to remedy the ills of our past.”

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