News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 21, 2013

Tank of coal tar, possibly from Civil War era, cleaned up at ISU

Remnants of gas plant found during excavation

By Sue Loughlin and Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A historic discovery during excavation for a new Indiana State University residence hall also required an environmental cleanup over Christmas break.

In mid-November, workers found a cylindrical, brick storage tank that held coal tar. The holding tank was part of a former manufactured gas plant that dated back to around the Civil War era, according to Pat Martin, city planner.  

ISU contacted the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and conducted a cleanup over winter break.

“IDEM oversaw removal of material, which we are told was not hazardous,” said Dave Taylor, ISU spokesman. Remediation involved removing coal tar and dirt and having it trucked to a landfill, Taylor said.

“They did everything like they were supposed to do,” said Barry Sneed, IDEM spokesman. “The removal was pretty quick. Remediation doesn’t usually happen that fast. But they wanted to keep exposure down so they paid overtime and got it done in a two-week period, which is really good.”

The combination of coal tar and soil that was removed weighed 1,129 tons. “It would have been hard to separate them,” Sneed said. “Normally, coal tar is classified as hazardous waste because of the benzene, but in this case the levels were low enough for it not to be classified as hazardous.”

On Monday, IDEM received soil samples from the area that had been remediated. While those samples have not been reviewed yet, “There’s no reason to believe that there’s an issue,” Sneed said.

The coal tar was found underground in an old, brick cylindrical tank that was about 40 feet in diameter, said Bryan Duncan, ISU’s director of capital planning and improvements.

The discovery delayed construction on a small portion of the work site.

Sneed said ISU removed all the coal tar that was at the site. As a precaution, ISU is going to install a vapor mitigation system, designed to keep potentially harmful vapors  from seeping into a building.

“It’s much like a system you’d put in a home for radon,” Sneed said. “It just pulls the vapor out of the building.”

Martin was contacted because he is trying to document every contaminated site in the city. Also, the city is involved with the Indiana brownfield program.

Martin was at the site each day of remediation. “It’s the oldest known manufacturing site in the city that we’ve excavated, to my knowledge,” Martin said.

The brick holding tank “was a beautiful piece of industrial work,” he said.

The contamination “was totally removed,” Martin said. “It is one less brownfield in the city of Terre Haute.”

The environmental consultant for the job was SESCO.



Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.