Consolidated Edison Hunts Point Manufactured Gas Plant

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The Hunts Point Manufactured Gas Plant was located in the Bronx. The plant was operated during the 1800s and mid-1900s, prior to the development of modern natural gas systems. It was used to convert coal and oil into a gas that was sold to customers throughout the area for heating, lighting, and cooking. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation oversees the investigation and cleanup of the extensive contamination left behind from these types of plants.

The plant originally produced gas for gas street light systems and later for heating and cooking. These types of plant required large quantities of water and were built along the waterways. The last of these plants in the state ceased operations in 1972. These plants manufactured gas through coal carbonization, in which coal was heated in what were called “beehive” ovens, and the gas produced would be cooled, purified, and then piped to the customers through a network of gas pipes.

Later, a new process was used in which coke or coal was heated in the presence of steam, leaving a flammable gas mixture, containing methane and carbon monoxide. The waste products created at the gas plants were resistant to decay and are known to have the potential for posing a health risk to workers and residents living in the area. The main waste was coal tar, which contaminated the site or was released into the water, corrupting soil, groundwater, and sediment.

Many of these types of sites, including the Hunts Point Manufactured Gas Plant, were inactive for many decades, and the site was later sold and redeveloped. The contaminated soil was covered with pavement, buildings or soil, but the dangerous substances may not have been fully removed, and people can be exposed to this contamination through ground water, contact with skin, or accidental ingestion. The various toxic substances that are commonly found to have contaminated manufactured gas plants include benzene, a cancer-causing agent, BTEX, cyanides, and many other toxic substances that are a known risk to public health.

Con Edison has 51 different manufactured gas plants that have been identified and require various cleanup activities. Cleanup activities require the removal of contaminated soil, the removal of buried structures, and asbestos removal, as the substance was heavily used as insulation during this period. The offensive odor of the vapors produced by the contaminants has been a troublesome factor as well.

Con Edison operated the Hunts Point Manufactured Gas Plant between 1926 and 1962. The city of New York then acquired the majority of the site in the late 1960s, and the property was transitioned and used for warehouse space for a wholesale food co-op.

Con Ed has been involved in a voluntary cleanup program on the former Hunts Point site, although earlier there was extensive work done to remove contaminants. There are many concerns about the health impact upon residents in the area, and an estimated 40 percent of the children in one school in this area of the Bronx have been diagnosed with asthma as a result of environmental contamination.

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Sources:

  • New York Department of Environmental Conservation: New York State’s Approach to Remediation of Former Manufactured Gas Plant Sites
  • Con Ed: Former Con Edison Manufactured Gas Plants
  • EPA: MGP Site Cleanup

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