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Record of Decision System (RODS)

BUTLER MINE TUNNEL

Abstract

Site Name:  BUTLER MINE TUNNEL
Address:  SUSQUEHANNA RIVER 
City & State:  PITTSTON TOWNSHIP  PA  18640
County:  LUZERNE
 
EPA ID:  PAD980508451
EPA Region:  03
 
NPL Status:  Currently on the Final NPL
 
ROD Type:  Record of Decision
ROD ID:  EPA/ROD/R03-96/224
ROD Date:  07/15/1996
Operable Unit(s):  01
 
Media:  surface water
 
Contaminant:  Xylene, trichloroethylene, benzene, bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, 4-bromophenyl phenyl ether, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, cyanide, dichlorobenzene, diethyl phthalate, dimethyl phthalate, di-n-octyl phthalate, ethylbenzene, methylene chloride, naphthalene, phenol, toluene
 
Abstract:  Please note that the text in this document summarizes the Record of Decision for the purposes of facilitating searching and retrieving key text on the ROD. It is not the officially approved abstract drafted by the EPA Regional offices. Once EPA Headquarters receives the official abstract, this text will be replaced.

The Butler Mine Tunnel site is located in Luzerne County, in northeastern Pennsylvania. The tunnel discharge point is located on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, approximately 350 feet north of the Fort Jenkins Bridge in the City of Pittston, Pennsylvania.

The Butler Tunnel (tunnel) was constructed prior to the 1930s as a drainage tunnel for underground coal mines via a series of interconnecting drainage ditches. Flow from the tunnel discharges directly into the Susquehanna River. It was designed to drain only that portion of the Butler Mine workings which were situated above an elevation of 595 feet above sea level. However, mining occurred in numerous seams to elevations as low as 300 and 400 feet above sea level. The tunnel drains an approximate five square mile area of underground mine caverns and waterways. The tunnel still continues to drain the mine workings. It routinely discharges water containing contaminants of acid mine drainage composed of sulfate, iron, and magnesium into the Susquehanna River. During mining operations, boreholes were drilled into the mines to serve as air vents for the mines. Many individuals and companies used the bore holes to dispose of various wastes, including residential and commercial wastes containing hazardous substances and waste oil. One such borehole was in Pittston at a gas station and auto repair shop called the Hi-Way Auto Service Station (HWAS), located over two miles from the tunnel discharge point. This borehole is known as the HWAS borehole. The waste oil accumulated in the underground mine workings. It is believed that any sudden influx of substantial amounts of water will cause the accumulated substances to be flushed out and discharged from the tunnel.

The migration of contaminants from this site begins with a rainfall over the surface area of the entire mine workings including Pittston, Dupont and neighboring communities. The water from the rainfall enters the mine by moving through open boreholes and from the natural seepage of rainfall through the earth. As the water fills the underground mine workings, the water elevation rises within the mines with the oil waste floating on the surface of the water. The flushout occurs when the oil spills into the interconnecting underground drainage ditches and then to the tunnel's discharge location along the banks of the Susquehanna River. Water in the mine workings is not used as a drinking water source for the area.

In late 1977, an oil recycling and reclamation company contracted with the owner of the Highway Auto Service Station for the disposal of oil waste into the HWAS borehole on the service station property. It is estimated that several million gallons of waste were disposed of into this borehole. In July 1979, this disposal was discontinued because of a Pennsylvania State Police investigation.

At the end of July 1979, Pennsylvania authorities were notified of a strong odor emanating from the Butler Tunnel outfall on the banks of the Susquehanna. Upon arriving at the scene, authorities discovered a 35-mile long oil slick on the Susquehanna River originating at the Butler Tunnel outfall. An emergency removal was performed. The source of substances was traced to the borehole at the Highway Auto Service Station. Testing of the wastes found in the borehole matched the waste in the outfall. To provide conclusive proof, a dye was placed in the HWAS borehole. The same dye was subsequently observed in the outfall discharge.

After this spill was cleaned up, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) installed an emergency monitoring device at the outfall of the Butler Tunnel. The Butler Emergency Response Program (BERP) was designed to monitor the continuing discharge of water from the tunnel and trigger an alarm if hazardous substances were discharged. After several years without a toxic discharge, the system was abandoned.

In September 1985, another sudden discharge from the Butler Tunnel occurred following heavy rains and flooding associated with Hurricane Gloria, which swept through the area. A 50-mile oil slick was found in the Susquehanna River emanating from the Butler outfall. Another emergency removal was performed after chemical analysis revealed the presence of bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate and dichlorobenzene, which are federally regulated hazardous substances. EPA removed and disposed of 161,000 pounds of oil/chemical-soaked debris and soil from the site. After further testing and investigation, EPA determined that the 1985 discharge was linked to the illegal dumping that caused the 1979 discharge.

After both the 1979 and 1985 discharges, hydrogeologic studies were performed by EPA. These studies concluded that a low probability of a future discharge exists under normal day to day conditions but another discharge may occur anytime a large storm hits the area.
 
Remedy:  The remedial action for this site addresses the possible future releases of hazardous substances from the Butler Tunnel. There were two prior releases of hazardous substances from the site, one in 1979 and another in 1985. The remedy includes institutional controls and preparations for a remedial response to address the threat posed by conditions at the site. The remedy uses an Administrative Center to monitor rainfall, monitor flow rate at the tunnel discharge location, measure water levels in monitoring boreholes, and collect water samples for chemical analysis to attempt to predict when a discharge of hazardous substances may occur. The Administrative Center would be responsible for notifying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) when a potential for a flushout exists and when a flushout occurs. A flushout is defined as a sudden discharge of oil contaminated with hazardous substances from the mine workings into the Susquehanna River.

This remedy also includes preparation for future remedial response by constructing access roads and anchors along the river's edge and pre-purchasing containment and absorbent booms necessary for any such remedial response. These materials will be stored near the site to allow for the quickest possible response. The remedy includes design and implementation of two future response actions to cleanup future discharges. Response personnel would use the absorbent booms and anchor them along the river's edge to collect any oil discharge containing hazardous substances.
 
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