PITTSTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday began a five-day training exercise at the Butler Mine Tunnel site on the Susquehanna River — just in case.
Mitch Cron, EPA field representative, said the primary threat posed by the tunnel is a flush-out of oil into the Susquehanna River.
He said a flush-out from the tunnel has not occurred since 1985, but if one were to happen it would be a threat to the river.
Cron said the five-day training exercise in Pittston is being conducted to test the emergency response system for the Superfund site.
“During the exercise, contractors along with local emergency responders will use two large work boats, a small barge, and several hundred feet of orange containment boom,” Cron said.
He said portions of Pittston’s Riverfront Park will not be accessible for public use through Friday.
According to EPA files, the Butler Mine Tunnel was built in the 1930s as a collection and discharge point for mine drainage from a 5-square-mile area of underground coal mines. It was placed on EPA’s Superfund list in 1987 after incidents in 1979 and 1985, when an oily discharge from the tunnel flowed into the Susquehanna River near Pittston.
Cron said that although there have been no recent releases, EPA required the companies responsible for the previous incidents to construct a containment/collection system that could be deployed in the event of a future spill to help minimize the impact.
He said EPA also required construction of a system to monitor tunnel flows and severe weather patterns that could affect flow levels.
Cron said this week’s exercise is the third full-scale, on-river training exercise since the containment and monitoring systems were completed in 2005.
The Superfund site was caused by the illegal disposal of liquid industrial wastes, including oily wastes, into underground mine areas via a mine ventilation borehole that was located at the Hi-Way Auto Service station in Pittston.
In 1979, an oily discharge coming from the tunnel created an oil slick on the river.
The contamination was traced to the illegal dumping at the station borehole, which was found to drain into parts of the underground mine areas for the Butler Mine Tunnel.
The Hi-Way Auto Service station borehole is located about 3.5 miles from the outlet of the mine tunnel into the Susquehanna River.
Nearly 25,000 people live within a five-mile radius of the site, and 1,400 people live within the boundaries of the Butler Mine Tunnel site.