Symposium on former gasworks in Darren Beriro

The 6th International Symposium on Manufactured Gas Plant Sites (MGP 2015) held in the historical city of Ghent, Belgium, was a great success, with 150 delegates and speakers from five continents. The symposium was attended by consultants, remediation contractors, environmental regulators and site owners, making it both practical and applied
Panoramic photo of Ghent old town taken from the famous Belfry
 The relevance of MGP 2015 to BGS is the discussion around contaminated soil and groundwater present at former gasworks. Conferences like MGP 2015 play an important part in the regeneration and redevelopment of gasworks. This links directly to UK government policies on reuse of brownfields, facilitation of housing and the protection of human health from environmental pollution. The contaminants present at former gasworks are dominated by hydrocarbons, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). This is because the process used to produce the gas relies on the heating of coal (or similar fossil fuel) to high temperatures in a low oxygen environment, resulting in a number of by-products, residuals and wastes including coal tar.  These mainly organic chemicals are complex and are known to be hazardous to human health.

Tondelier former gasworks undergoing remediation on the edge of the city of Ghent
Author asking an inspired question!
The BGS contribution was made by Dr Darren Beriro in the opening presentation of the symposium entitled The Application of Bioaccessibility Testing to Assess the Human Health Impacts at Former Gasworks Sites. The talk gave a concise overview of the bioaccessibility of PAH in soils and made reference to BGS’ in vitro method  called FOREhST (Brownfield Briefing Best Scientific Advancement Award Winner, 2013) and a recently accepted paper on the dermal bioavailability of PAH in soil. Both pieces of work were funded by National Grid Property

In addition to the risk-based management and remediation of former gasworks there were also presentations on the role gasworks played in the industrial revolution around the world. This includes the contribution gasworks made to extending factory operating hours using gas lighting and the utilisation of gas as source of energy. For those that are interested further information about heritage and operational characteristics of gasworks has been produced by Prof. Russell Thomas (Technical Director, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff).

Inside a former gasholder at the Tondelier gasworks
As with any good conference there was a field trip. Instead of the typical jewel in the landscape crown of a country, this one was to the Tondelier Development project and involved descending into a former gasholder.

The conference was a very useful way to meet industry and regulatory representatives from across Europe as well disseminating new and forthcoming BGS science on risk-based brownfield management and redevelopment.