Old gas plant blamed for black goo in Squamscott River
By JASON SCHREIBERNew Hampshire Union Leader Correspondent
EXETER – Officials have traced the source of a black, slurry-like substance found bubbling up in the Squamscott River to an old gas-making plant that closed down many years ago.
Exeter Health Officer Ken Berkenbush said the substance is a byproduct left behind when coal was turned into gas at a plant that was located on Water Street for several decades.
Berkenbush said he believes remnants left over from the gas production have just now begun to surface in an area of the river near the pavilion at Swasey Parkway.
"We know what it is, but we don't know how it got there," Berkenbush said yesterday.
The substance was discovered at low tide last week in a section of the river along the parkway. It was visible again rising up through the ground around low tide yesterday, Berkenbush said.
Officials are now trying to figure out exactly where the substance is coming from in the river bed. It may have been dumped into the river years ago when the plant was in operation and for some reason has recently begun to resurface, or it could be related to an old retention pond in the area that held remnants from the gas production.
The heaviest concentration has been mapped out in a 20-foot by 30-foot section that now has a boom around it to filter the substance out before the contaminated water moves downstream.
Officials from the town, the state Department of Environmental Services, and Northern Utilities are working on a plan to pinpoint the source and clean it up.
Berkenbush said he believes the substance began surfacing only in recent weeks. So far, he said, none of the wildlife in the river appears to have been affected.
"It needs to be cleaned up, but it's not a catastrophic event at this time," he said.