Oil-Like Sheens Still Float Down St. Mary's River

By Stephanie Parkinson - 21Alive

October 30, 2013 Updated Oct 30, 2013 at 5:29 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (21Alive) - Pollution from the 1800s is still floating down the St. Mary's River in downtown Fort Wayne.

"It is there. It's being addressed," said Ben Hall, General Manager, Don Hall's Gas House.

"Just as kind of, an air bubble comes up, it releases a small sheen on the river," said Larry Graham, Public Affairs Manager, NIPSCO.

Small or large, the oil-like sheen raises concern.

"I think it's just general nature to respond like that. I mean we're a lot more cognizant," said Hall.

NIPSCO and the management at Don Hall's Gas House have been working together for around six years to fix the problem.

From 1851 to 1948, the site was home to a manufactured gas plant. The waste from that industry still sits underground there today. But in 2009, a major undertaking by NIPSCO removed several tons of contaminated soil, and secured the coal tar. The coal tar had been leaking into the river, but now it's secured inside the storage tank underground.

"Every indication is that the remediation we did here on the site itself for the Halls has been successful and we haven't noticed any release of additional coal or byproducts in the river," said Graham.

NIPSCO officials and the manager at the Gas House may say it's a job well done, but it's also a job that may never be over.

"I'm not sure that we'll ever necessarily have to not monitor the site to make sure that the conditions do not change," said Graham.

Although they've stopped the source. NIPSCO is running a pilot program to address the coal tar that seeped into the river before 2009. They're using large absorbent mats to soak up the oil-like substance.

"What is seen currently in the river is a very, very small fraction of what was here at one point," said Hall.

But it's still there.

"We will stay here until it's corrected and that there's a solution that's acceptable with us, IDEM and the Halls," said Graham.

Next year NIPSCO will decide if the absorbent mats are working, and if that's the right long term solution.

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