Former Coal Gas Plant in Belleville

Starting in the late 1800’s, communities throughout North America produced coal gas as fuel for heating and lighting. The coal gas was produced by heating coal and other ingredients in large brick ovens, collecting and filtering the coal gas and then storing the coal gas in tanks. A by-product of the manufacture of coal gas was coal tar.  Coal tar was sold as a product and excess coal tar was disposed of as waste.

A coal gas plant operated within the City of Belleville from approximately 1854 to 1947. It was located in the former Foster Ward, on property within the area bounded by Pinnacle St, St. Paul St., South Church St., and the CPR rail line to the north.

(excerpt from image HC0387A, Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County, 1948-1950)

With the emergence of natural gas and electrical utilities becoming economically viable alternatives, the gas manufacturing plants in Ontario were phased out largely by the late 1950’s. Due to environmental concerns associated with several former coal gas manufacturing plants in municipalities other than Belleville, the Ministry of Environment commissioned a province-wide study of former sites in the 1980s.  A report on the former coal gas manufacturing plants was issued in 1987.  The former coal gas manufacturing plant in Belleville was included in the report. This subsequently led to environmental investigations being conducted at the former plant in 1993.  Based upon those investigations the Ministry of Environment and Energy concluded that the plant in Belleville presented a low hazard to public health.  The Ministry subsequently commented that:

“in determining hazards to the public at a site, it was the ministry’s position at the time of the investigations that if the tars were not exposed on the surface of the ground or in surface water or sediments to which humans had ready access or contact, and PAH [PAH - polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; group of substances common to tar, creosote, lubricating oils, and other petroleum products] was not found in ground water used for drinking, a site did not present a hazard to the Public-at-Large. Consequently the site did not need further action until such time as the existing conditions were disturbed to expose the tars” (MOEE, 1997)

Notwithstanding these previous comments the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) subsequently requested that the City and the current owners of the property on which the plant was located, undertake certain environmental investigations. The City has been undertaking those investigations since 2010, and is continuing to consult with the MOECC regarding future investigations. Pursuant to a MOECC Director’s Order issued to the current and past owners of the property on which the plant was located (including the City), the City has  submitted work plans for the development and implementation of measures to address any adverse effects resulting from the contaminants related to the former coal gas plant. The work plans investigations, risk assessments, and any associated management and implementation measures are being developed and completed under the oversight of the MOECC.

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