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Environment & Energy

DEP to Extinguish Underground Fire Near Pittsburgh Airport

A small coal waste fire has been burning underground near the Pittsburgh International Airport for several years, but it’s about to be extinguished for good.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Wednesday announced plans to put out the fire and reclaim the abandoned mine underneath airport property.

“We’re going to dig up all the waste coal and put out the smoldering area, eliminate that, and then regrade the area and plant it,” said DEP spokesman John Poister.

The project is expected to begin in September and take about a year to complete, at a price tag of $1.45 million. Funding for the project comes from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Trust Fund, which is subsidized by fees paid by the coal industry.

Poister said he wanted to be sure not to exaggerate the extent of the fire, which he says is more “smoldering” than “burning.”

“It’s not like huge plumes of smoke are threatening the airport or people living nearby,” Poister said. “This is relatively small area, and it has just small little wisps of smoke that appear once in a while.”

It’s expected to take millions of gallons of water and 200 gallons of firefighting foam to do the job.

Poister said DEP dug an isolation trench between the mine and another adjacent coal waste pile two years ago, to prevent the fire from spreading.

The mine was in operation from 1906 to 1939. Poister said the mine has long been covered over, but that 429,000 cubic yards of coal waste were left behind.

He said abandoned mines and coal waste piles are common throughout Pennsylvania.

“The coal piles are of concern because they can leach off chemicals from coal and affect ground … or surface water,” Poister said. “And as we’ve seen in several cases, they also can catch fire.”