TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Residents on Carney Street, in the City of Tonawanda, have been on edge since last spring when a sinkhole suddenly formed, and when a street crew dug down to find out what caused the portion of the street to collapse, they discovered a thick, dark colored, oily substance they suspected was coal tar.
Remnants of an old coal gasification plant, known as Gastown, which is now a state Superfund site is a block away on East Niagara Street, and has been leaking coal tar into the ground for years. Coal tar is a byproduct of coal gasification.
The Department of Public Works crew discovered a damaged sewer pipe, and city officials called in the state Department of Environmental Conservation because the smelly goo was believed to be hazardous.
The DEC hired an excavation team to repair the damaged sewer, and take samples of the gunk to send to a lab to test the samples for coal tar.
As the Gastown site is being cleaned up, neighbors have found the coal tar turning up, off site, like the Gastown Sportsmens’ Club next door.
A city DPW crew sent a camera through the E. Niagara St. sewer, back in April, 2014, and when they pulled the camera out, Tonawanda Mayor Rick Davis said, it was covered with a thick oily goo.
“You could see that oily substance all along the bottom. That is not sewage, the only thing that can be is coal tar.” A small sample of that goo is in a jar that sits on Davis’ desk at City Hall.
The sanitary sewer they checked with the camera, under East Niagara Street, is less than 100 yards from the Carney Street excavation.
But now the Carney St. sewer has been repaired, the sinkhole has been filled, and patched over.
The DEC says no coal tar was observed in the excavation, and no coal tar odor was detected.
Davis doesn’t challenge the Carney St. finding, but insists there is coal tar in the city’s sewers, as he referred to the jar on his desk, and the picture of the gooey sewer camera, “there is no doubt. The proof is right here that we have coal tar, in at least the sewers along East Niagara.”
Davis and other city officials have been told informally no coal tar was found on Carney Street, but they still have not received written formal notice from the DEC. Neither has National Fuel, which is responsible for the Gastown cleanup.
But National Fuel had staff at the Carney St. site, last week, when the samples were taken, and issued a statement to News 4, in agreement with the DEC, “Based on the extensive excavation, no coal tar was found.”
So now Davis wants to know, if it wasn’t coal tar what was that smelly gunk under Carney St. “it still doesn’t answer the question of coal tar contamination, either in the sewer lines on Carney Street–there might be some areas that they didn’t know about–nor does it take care of the problem of coal tar in the sewers on East Niagara Street.”
The DEC could not identify the oily substance, but the spokesman did say “weathered diesel or fuel oil” can have a similar odor under certain conditions, adding the samples were sent to a lab for analysis, and results should be available later this week.