New York Using Giant "Sponges" To Clean Coal Tar from Hudson River

coal tar clean-up image

Image via Circle of Blue
Coal tar is an awful thing to deal with. It is a relic by-product from the early 20th century process of carbonizing coal to made coke or gasifying it to make coal gas. The resulting coal tar can have a wide range of substances mixed into it, and while it has many uses from skin treatments to food dyes, it is definitely considered a pollutant in the Hudson River. However, a project in New York's Hudson River could help clean up coal tar from the water by using sheets of oil-absorbing organo-clay, among other methods.Circle of Blue reports that the project has been underway since May 2009. The project involves 75 matress-sized panels, filled with organo-clay, placed in the river to collect coal tar. It's part of the effort to tackle the widespread pollution from the substance, which racks up a $3 billion remediation bill.

"The new clean-up technology, including 10,000 square feet of panels removed from the Hudson River, will be tested to determine its effectiveness. If the results are positive, the panels could be reinstalled permanently in Poughkeepsie, and this method could potentially be used at similarly polluted sites throughout the state," states Circle of Blue.

In addition to panels of organo-clay, sites are using strategies such as dredging, and for areas set away from water supplies, underground steel walls to prevent leaching. The Times Herald Record reports:

Central Hudson started installation of a gigantic, underground steel wall along Newburgh's shoreline. The wall, which stretches 450 feet along the shore and 50-60 feet deep, will be buried permanently there to block more coal tar from reaching the river.

"When the coal tar hits the steel sheeting, it will drop to pipes along the bottom," Borchert said. "Then we'll collect it periodically, suck it out and send it to a treatment plant."

It could take decades for the remaining coal tar to hit the barrier, but Borchert said coal tar isn't a threat because it's not near any water supplies.

All said, it's great that cleanup efforts have been underway, and it will be interesting to see how the organo-clay panels work for cleaning up the substance from water supplies. But as Wayne Mancroni, a senior environmental researcher at Central Hudson, told the Times Herald-Record, "This is very much a research project."

An interactive map shows sites where clean-up efforts are underway.

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