Manufactured gas doesn’t refer to the aftermath of your latest trip to Taco Bell, it’s more important. Manufactured gas began bringing light to dark streets and allowing households the ability to cook any time they wanted in the early 1830s. Manufactured gas rose to prominence before electricity, and has remained a prominent industry since World War I. However, unlike electricity, most Manufactured Gas Plants (MGPs) were privately owned. And nowadays interstate pipelines allow us to use mostly natural gas for our gas-powered needs, both natural and manufactured-gas extrapolation can result in some serious environmental risks.
In the 1970s, some of the worst environmental disasters began coming to light, bringing some of the most talked about environmental scares of the time. New York’s Love Canal disaster, for example, brought toxic waste oozing into family basements, birth defects, and illness to an entire town; then, the world began to turn its head sharply towards the importance of environmental preservation, or the prevention of devastation at the hand of man.
The founding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which incidentally coincides with the first Earth Day saw the installation of:
- The Clean Air Act
- The Clean Water Act
- The Resource Conservation & Recovery Act
- The Toxic Substances Control Act
- The Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act
Environmental reform continued to pepper the 1980s with Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, the Hazardous and Solid Waste Act and the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA).
Long Term Impacts
Naturally (or rather, through manufacturing), MGP sites cause a lot of harm to the environment surrounding them. The byproducts of these sites produce toxic chemicals like arsenic, ambient metal concentrations, and even lead, and they can leak into our soil, groundwater, and daily lives. The Institute of Gas Technology categorizes wastes from former MGP sites into six major categories:
- Pumpable liquids (free tars and oils)/source material
- Organic waste or tar/oil-contaminated waters
- Organic waste or tar-contaminated soils and sediments
- Nonpumpable tars and sludge
- Purifier box (or spent oxide) wastes
- Demolition debris
Solution: Brownfield Projects?
With thousands of unattended waste, sites speckled throughout the U.S., and not nearly enough man power or funding to properly remediate them, old MGP plants are stuck between [coal] rocks and a hard place. A viable solution for old MGP plants is to turn them into Brownfield projects, where the harmful chemical and debris fields are capped off and the area is renovated into usable space.
The closure of old manufactured-gas plant (MGP) sites is a Brownfield market. Manufacturers and chemical firms are doing well, so they are expediting cleanup, says President Michael Elia of Sevenson Environmental. MGP sites also were once exempt from regulation. Now they are under more pressure. Cities need the property.
Sevenson has additionally worked on a $40 million dollar industry funded by the MGP cleanup in Everett, Mass., that will turn a Superfund site into a cargo container pier. So, despite the destruction and devastation caused by the vestiges of our gas-crazed forefathers, there’s a usable (hopefully non-gas lit) light at the end of tunnel.