By Dylan O’Hagan 
BELLEVILLE – Coal tar from a long gone coal-gas plant is contaminating Belleville near St. Paul Street and the city has been ordered to do something about it.
The order  came from the provincial Ministry of the Environment  in September, asking past owners like Belleville and present owners of the land once used for the plant to create an action plan  for the coal tar. Belleville submitted the action plan to the city on Nov. 1 explaining how bad the coal tar contamination is and how to deal with it.
Coal tar is a byproduct of turning coal into coal gas. It’s a black tar mixture made up of many types of petroleum-based chemicals and is known to cause cancer in humans . It’s used in some commercial products such as sealants and some pet shampoos .
The coal-gas plant was built in 1854 and produced gas until 1947. The seven-hectare property has had 10 owners over the years, with the city owning it multiple times until 1965. Now the land is separated into two portions and owned by two different parties. The west portion is owned by the Belleville company that makes Cheezies, W.T. Hawkins Ltd , and is on the east side of Pinnacle Street. The east portion is just west of South Church Street and is owned by the numbered company 835267 Ontario Inc.
The action plan has multiple steps but says the process must start with better understanding the extent of the contamination, said Belleville environmental-services manager Richard Reinert.
“We have to know how bad it is and we have to know where it is before you really determine what you’re going to do with it,” Reinert said. “Another step is to figure out what are the risks. So the risks in that area could be different from the risks on a project in some other city.”
Reinert added that the extent of the pollution depends on quite a few factors.
“Just because of the uses of the land, the soils that are there, the groundwater levels, the amount of groundwater movement, all that stuff varies from location to location,” he said. “We have to figure what’s there, how bad it is, where it is – and based on that, what risks there are. And from that you can try to figure out what you have to do to mitigate those risks.”
Studies have shown that the coal-tar contamination is deep underground near St. Paul Street, said Ministry of the Environment spokesperson Kate Jordan. Contamination was also found in groundwater an off-site, she said.
The action plan also says it will be necessary to find out how much the cleanup will cost. It’s up to the city, not the MOE, to ascertain that, Jordan said.
“There’s no dollar figure or monetary figure set out in the (ministry’s) order. The order just requires the work to be done,” she said.
The city doesn’t yet have a clear idea of how much the project will cost, according to Reinert. A consultant was hired to help figure out the cost, he said, but it is not yet known how much work is needed.
The city and other past and present owners of the land are appealing the MOE order to come up with the action plan. They believe the order should lay out who is responsible for how much of the cleanup costs, said Reinert.
“That’s what we’re really appealing. It’s not that we’re appealing the work has to be done or anything like that. It’s who’s responsible for what,” he said.
The next step is having the order to produce the plan reviewed by an Environmental Review Tribunal . A date has not been set for an initial hearing. Until a ruling is made, the MOE will be enforcing the requirements in the order.
Take a listen to part of the interview with Richard Reinert.http://www.qnetnews.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/richard-reinert1.mp3