Estimating the Extent of Soil Contamination During a Redevelopment Excavation
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From October 2014 to March 2015, I provided excavation oversight services at a property with substantial environmental concerns. The property in question is located near downtown Seattle and was formerly occupied by the Washington’s first coal gasification plant. The plant operated from 1888 to 1908 and produced coal gas for municipal use. A coal tar like substance with a characteristically high benzene concentration was a byproduct of the coal gasification process and heavily contaminated at or below the surface grade of the plant as shown in previous investigations on the property. Once the plant ceased operation in 1908 the property was left vacant until 1955 when the site was filled in and a service station was built on the property. The main goal of the excavation was not to achieve cleanup on the property, but to properly remove what contaminated soil was encountered during the redevelopment excavation. Areas of concern were identified prior to the commencement of the excavation and an estimation of the extent of contamination on the property was developed. “Hot spots” of contaminated soil associated with the fill placed after 1955 were identified as areas of concern. However, the primary contaminant plume below the property was likely sourced from the coal gasification plant, which operated at an approximate elevation of 20 feet. We planned to constrain the extents of the soil contamination below the property as the redevelopment excavation progressed. As the redevelopment excavation was advanced down to an elevation of approximately 20 feet, soil samples were collected to bound the extents of contamination in the upper portion of the site. The hot spots, known pockets of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (cPAH) located above 20 feet elevation, were excavated as part of the redevelopment excavation. Once a hot spot was excavated, soil samples were collected from the north, south, east, west and bottom sidewalls of the hot spot excavation to check for remaining cPAH. Additionally, four underground storage tanks (USTs) associated with the service station were discovered and subsequently removed. Soil samples were also collected from the resulting UST excavation sidewalls to check for remaining petroleum hydrocarbons. Once the excavation reached its final excavation depth of 20 to 16 feet in elevation, bottom of excavation samples were collected on a 35 foot by 35 foot grid to test for concentrations of contaminants remaining onsite. Once the redevelopment excavation was complete, soils observed from borings drilled for either structural elements, geotechnical wells, or environmental wells were checked for any evidence of contamination using field screening techniques. Evidence of contamination was used to identify areas below the final excavation grade which had been impacted by the operation of the coal gasification plant. Samples collected from the excavation extents of hot spots and USTs show that it was unlikely that any contamination traveled from the post-1955 grade down to the pre-1955 grade. Additionally, the lack of benzene in the bottom of excavation samples suggests that a release from the coal gasification plant occurred below the redevelopment excavation final elevations of 20 to 16 feet. Qualitative data collected from borings for shoring elements and wells indicated that the spatial extent of the subsurface contaminant plume was different than initially estimated. Observations of spoils show that soil contamination extends further to the southwest and not as far to the east and north than originally estimated. Redefining the extent of the soil contamination beneath the property will allow further subsurface investigations to focus on collecting quantitative data in areas that still represent data gaps on the property, and passing over areas that have shown little signs of contamination. This information will help with the formation of a remediation plan should the need to clean up the site arise in the future.