2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 8:45 AM


STRACHER, Glenn Blair1, TAYLOR, Tammy P.2, NOLTER, Melissa3, VICE, Daniel H.4, BLAKE, Donald R.5 and CERPOVICZ, Paul F.1, (1)Division of Science and Mathematics, East Georgia College, 131 College Circle, Swainsboro, GA 30401, (2)Chemistry Division, Los Alamos National Lab, Chemical Division, C-SIC, Mail Stop J514, Los Alamos, NM 87545, (3)1426 E. Center Street, Mahanoy City, PA 17948, (4)School of Science, Engineering, and Technology, Penn State Schuylkill, 200 University Drive, Schuylkill Haven, PA 17972-2208, (5)Department of Chemistry, University of Califronia, Irvine, 507 Rowland Hall, Irvine, CA 92697-2025, taylort@lanl.gov

During the past two years, numerous articles about the environmental significance of coal fires and their threat to human health appeared internationally in newspaper and magazine articles, research journals, and on the Internet. This stirred renewed interest in the Centralia, Pennsylvania mine fire, burning since May of 1962, one of the worst recorded underground fires in U.S. history. Consequently, in June of 2003, the National Geographic Society filmed a documentary about the fire as part of their new earth science series entitled "Built for Destruction."

The Centralia fire began when burning trash in an abandoned strip-mining cut, used as an unregulated dump at the edge of town, ignited anthracite in the Buck Mountain seam concealed behind the refuse. The fire then spread along the seam to coal mine tunnels beneath Centralia. Today, about 20 people are left in a town and its environs damaged by toxic gases, scorched woodlands, subsidence, and polluted streams.

Anthracite fires generate enormous amounts of heat energy and after more than four decades of burning, temperatures as high as 540°C were recorded in Centralia in 2003. Reconnaissance of the area with the National Geographic film crew for dramatic film footage revealed abundant mineral condensation products adjacent to vents and fissures in the Pennsylvanian Llewellyn formation, from which hot gases were exhaled at the surface. The minerals were found in association with the cemetery and death-valley "fronts," along which the fire is currently active. Condensation occurred when vented gas cooled below the gas-liquid transformation temperature as it encountered heat sinks such as sediment, rock, and vegetation. During mineral and gas collecting, evidence was found for two thermodynamic transformation paths. Fluffy mineral encrustations suggest that a gas to solid transformation (sublimation) occurred whereas "flow condensates," suggest a gas to liquid transformation occurred, followed by a liquid to solid transformation (freezing).

Field analysis of gas samples using a Drager hand pump and tubes revealed toxic concentrations of CO (2200 ppm) and CO2 (1000 ppm) whereas gas samples extracted from vents into Tedlar collection bags yielded, upon analysis, analogous concentrations of CO and CO2 in addition to a variety of sulfides, sulfates and hydrocarbons.