Locations of Gas Plants and Other Coal-tar Sites in the U.S.
► THE CITY OF NEW YORK
This city represents the greatest number of FMGPs and associated coal-tar sites of any single urban area in the world. This statement is made with London fully in mind as well. The Author’s number at this writing is 129 locations where PAH and associated wasted can be expected, and that area is herewith defined as the five boroughs. Nassau County, the remainder of Long Island is herewith mentioned in this section, apart from the remainder of the State, but has not been counted in the above figure. These sites including district stations, but not the large number of alternate coal-tar sites represented by separate dump sites of gas-manufacturing residuals and wastes, tar derivatives plants and producer gas plants. This situation is largely due to the early impact of “... an act passed by the Legislature in 1848 permission was granted to all lawfully incorporated gas light companies to lay pipes through any and all of the streets of the city.” (AG-LJ, 16Jun 1883, p. 275).
The City hosted the State’s first manufactured gas company as incorporated in 1823, using various forms of resin-rich wood and wood resin (“rosen”) until 1849, when coal-gas generally took over. By 1861, the Manhattan Gas Light Company, with its two gas plants, was ranked at fourth in gas production in the entire world, lagging only behind the Paris Gas Co. (no. 1) and two of the gas companies in London. Before its consolidation, beginning with the formation of the Consolidated Gas Company (Con Gas) of New York City, in 1883, Manhattan Island alone had plants operated by 13 separate gas company. Across the East River, the Boroughs of Kings and Queens and the then-City of Brooklyn were the location of another ___ gas companies, some with multiple gas works. Though Brooklyn was an early and thriving city, the boroughs of Kings and Queens became bedroom communities for work on Manhattan as well as their own numerous factories, especially along Newtown Creek. All this was in place by the Centennial year and many gas plants resulted. Consolidation came to the Kings and Queens with the 1895 organization of the Brooklyn Union Gas Company.
The growth of Queens prompted the audacious gas magnate of Ohio, Emerson Macmillan, chose to create the East River Gas Company, at Long Island City. Macmillan also made gas at his Ravenswood gas plant and transported it under the east river in a drill-and-blast tunnel excavated in gneiss and a sliver of dolomitic limestone, and passing beneath Blackwell’s Island. That gas was sold under contract to the gas-hungry Consolidated company at an East 175th Street terminal. In one of the many convolutions of New York gas history, Macmillan was out of the company by 1894 and in 1897 his firm would become a part of the newly organized New Amsterdam Gas Company, “a J.P. Morgan company.”
On Manhattan Island, an early agreement subdivided the island latidudinally into three gas distribution zones, south, middle and north. This arrangement became eroded as the population burgeoned after the Civil War and three existing companies were not able to meet the citizen demand for gas lights and territories were opened up for gas service from new companies.
Consolidation in New York City
The concept of merging of all gas utilities in one city first came about at New York City in 1884, with the creation of the Consolidated Gas Company in 1884, uniting eleven of the 13 existing gas companies of Manhattan Island. The final phase of consolidation was consummated in 189_. As soon as Con Gas was put together, search for a suitable Engineer-in-Chief was undertaken, and the position was filled in 1887 with William Hooker Bradley, late of the absorbed Mutual Gas Company. “Chief” Bradley was keenly aware that certain civic forces were eager to see all gas manufacturing plants removed from the island. Driving this force were citizens who had fought gas works air and ground pollution from the beginning and who had caused formation of the Metropolitan Board of Health in 1866, a force that also led the State Legislature to create the State Health Department in 1880. Eagerly supporting the movement were land developers eager to convert gas plant ground to high-density tenements.
Even though we will see that the move of production capacity from Manhattan Island was accomplished from 1905 through 1927, Con Gas was still holding on to its gas plant equipment at four of its four of its Eastside gas plants and at the Bronx, for standby purposes, through 1933.
Astoria Gas Works – Chief Bradley’s Great Works
All of the Manhattan gas works, save those of the Bronx (not truly considered a part of Manhattan Island, but yet its geologic “head”) were grouped into Chief Bradley’s plant to move that gas generation capacity to the barren tidelands (“Barren Island”) of the extreme NW corner of The Queens. By 1893 Chief Bradley had corporate authority to move toward establishment of a great gas works in north Queens. Con Gas acquired 300 acres of marginal and tidal lands at and around Barren island in 1903, and began the massive movement of 5 million cubic yards of gas house residuals and wastes, along with dredge spoils, into timber and stone revetments along the east bank of the East River, forming “made” land to support what was planned to be the world’s largest manufactured gas plant, one to be owned and managed by the Astoria Light, Heat & Power Company, a wholly owned production subsidiary of Con Gas. Bradley’s plans were complete in 1901 and construction began in 1903 and the first of four planned unit plants came on stream in 19__, generating 12 million cf per day. Ultimate development plans for Astoria called for a production capacity of 200 million cubic feet a day. So large and impressive was this state-of-the-art gas plant that Britain’s Dean of Gas Engineers, Sir Corbet Woodall, accustomed to a yearly visit and lecturing in New York City, in 1913 handed Con Gas recognition of having surpassed the then-largest gas plant in the world, Beckton Station, at London. Bradley, by the way, made an annual pilgrimage to Britain just to stay up with their state-of-the-art, as well.
As only two of the planned four units were completed it is not yet clear if Astoria did indeed eclipse Beckton Station, but the ground pollution resulting from its operation, in one form or another, until 1960, likely is unsurpassed. During World War I, Astoria also recovered toluol for the national war effort and that plant, now long gone, also contributed to the general contamination of site of this great plant.
Hunts Point Gas Works, The Bronx
As a result of Chief Bradley’s death in 1913 and in recognition of the dynamic growth of the Bronx, Con Gas came to contemplate another large gas works to be constructed at Hunts Point, north of Astoria, and across Long Island Sound. This 20 million cfd plant was designed to operate with carbureted water gas and came on line in 1926. The creation of the Hunts Point works bob-tailed Chief Bradley’s ultimate development plans for Astoria.
Additionally, Con Gas, by 1931, was operating 74 Koppers Becker Coke Ovens, at Hunts Point, for a daily contribution of 30 million cubic feet. The plant eventually was expanded to 111 ovens. Consolidated Edison Co., successor to Con Gas, sold the plant site to the City of New York in 1960.
Manufactured Gas in Brooklyn
Brooklyn, operating as a separate city, started its gas manufacturing in 1825 and was not folded into New York City until 1898, and its consolidation took the form of the Brooklyn Union Gas Company, formed of eight companies, in 1895, leaving eight independent gas companies remaining yet in that city. Prior to this time there were mergers, beginning in 1868 with the Greenpoint and Williamsburgh Gas Light Companies. The consolidation was not completed until 1910. Brooklyn Union Gas Co. installed a 74-oven Koppers by-product coke plant and nine Koppers gas producers (to fire the ovens). Brooklyn Union took on its last manufactured gas company merger in 1959, with acquisition of the Brooklyn Borough Gas Co.
Natural Gas Arrives at New York City
In 1950 the various operating entities providing manufactured gas to the city signed an agreement to take receipt of natural gas from the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corporation at a common terminal to be located on the east bank of the Hudson River, at West 134th Street, Manhattan. This arrangement did not provide sufficient supplies of natural gas to allow for any form of decommissioning of the existing production plants. Full supplies would not be ready for another ten years and 1n 1955, Consolidated Edison Co., of NYC, begins final phase of conversion of its carbureted water-gas generators to high-Btu oil-gas manufacture as peak-shaving backup.
Environmental Legacy of New York City Gas PlantsThe larger gas works of New York City and of the Boroughs of Queens and Kings, largely were located on the margins of developed land, the greatest concentration being along the west bank of the East River. For those plants located on the edges of Manhattan Island, considerable quantities of gas house residuals and wastes were discharged or otherwise dumped on the tidal flats below the gas works. These toxics, as well as those leaked, discharged or dumped around the remaining plants and district stations (mainly leaks at those sites, which were mainly occupied by pit-type gas holders) lie in place and with migrated light-oil and precipitated gas liquor contamination today. Reliable accounts of tar leakage into subway and water supply tunnels of Manhattan persist today.