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Hospital Gets Some Welcome Aroma Therapy

July 24, 1998|STEVE CARNEY

The underground methane gas that once fouled the air around Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian with a rotten-egg odor is now being harnessed to provide energy and fertilizer for the hospital.

The noxious gas is a byproduct of millenniums of decaying plants and animals that also produced the area's petroleum reserves. But for decades the gas percolated from its natural reservoir 60 feet underground to the surface, where its scent annoyed nearby residents, workers and visitors to the hospital.

The new system to control the gas includes a vacuum to suck the methane from the reservoir and scrubbers to remove the sulfur the gas contains and turn it into fertilizer. Then the clean gas is collected for use as an energy source for the hospital, said Dave Kiff, assistant to the Newport Beach city manager.

Hoag spokeswoman Maureen Mazzatenta said the gas will offset 5% to 10% of the natural gas the hospital now buys for its energy.

The California Department of Transportation paid half of the project's cost because the gas had been seeping through and around Coast Highway. "If it builds up, there's an explosion potential," Kiff said. For years the hospital tried to control the odor with collection pipes and a flare that would burn off the gas. But the system couldn't contain all the gas, and the smell sometimes remained.

"It's a major improvement over the previous system," said Hoag executive vice president Peter Foulke. "It handles a higher volume of gas, provides the hospital with a potential source of energy and frees the community from unpleasant odors."

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