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Coal tar drilling begins today on Sandusky waterfront

Jason Singer • Jun 7, 2010 at 2:32 AM

Ready, set, drill.

After months of discussion and planning, Sandusky officials said workers will begin drilling in the Paper District on Tuesday to see if a coal tar plume has seeped into the bedrock beneath the city.

Crews will drill three holes, a process likely to take the entire week, said Bob Haag, an environmental consultant for the city.

The holes will be located at the western end of the Tricor Property, at the corner of Lawrence and Water Street near the Nielsen Canvas Co., and on the Lawrence Street Right of Way, just south of Deep Water Marina.

In addition to inspecting the bedrock, the city also wants to see if coal tar has made it into Deep Water Marina, Haag said.

Officials want to know determine hazardous the coal tar is, if it can reach people and, if so, whether the exposure levels are harmful.

Once the city answers those questions, environmental experts can determine possible containment and cleanup scenarios.

"There's a lot of different remediation options," said Karla Auker, a brownfields project manager for the U.S. EPA. "Right now, we're just gathering information to determine the best steps going forward."

Coal tar is a description for a molasses-like blob made up of countless chemicals. It can contain carcinogens such as benzo(a)pyrene, or chemicals of lesser concern, like naphthalene, Haag said.

Malcolm Pirnie, the city's environmental consultant, will oversee the drilling and the analysis of collected samples. It may be several months before the city receives a final report.

Malcolm Pirnie estimates the entire project will cost about $80,000, but the city has asked for an itemized breakdown of the bill.

A $400,000 U.S. EPA grant will fund the project's exploratory phases, but the money can't be used for cleanup or containment.

If the city needs cleanup money, it'll looks to the federal government.

The city in January applied for $1 million from President Obama's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which could cover much of the cleanup. Congress added the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the 2010 budget, committing $475 million to the program.

The city will learn later this month if it receives the grant.

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