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Work begins to remove coal tar from South Carolina river

A view of West Columbia, across the Congaree River
Dr. Blazer
Wikimedia Commons
A view of West Columbia, across the Congaree River

Work will begin this summer to remove tens of thousands of tons of coal tar from a South Carolina river.

The Congaree River in Columbia will remain open for kayakers and boaters, but there will be some changes, The State newspaper reported.

A boat launch at private land on Senate Street will be closed for three years as Dominion Energy uses the site as its base to clean up the 40,000 tons (36.3 million kilograms) of coal tar, which ended up in the river from a plant that burned coal to create gas from 1900 to 1950.

Clean-up crews will also build coffer dams well away from the river's shores that anyone floating or boating on the river will have to navigate around, Dominion said.

"There will be varying impacts depending on what folks are trying to do," Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler said. But the river will still be open to the public.

The project is scheduled to last three years and work can only be done between May 1 and Oct. 31 to avoid the spawning season for shortnose sturgeon, according to The Army Corps of Engineers.

Work could also be paused if heavy rains cause the river level to rise too high, officials said.

Coal tar doesn't impact water quality, but can irritate the skin. The project should remove about 70% of the coal tar from the river, authorities said. The remaining tar in deep in areas where humans are unlikely to come in contact or was covered by sediment in the massive 2015 floods.

South Carolina Electric & Gas is responsible for the coal tar and Dominion Energy took over that responsibility when they bought the utility.