Centralia, Pennsylvania: Toxic Town


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


Centralia is an example of a toxic town (see toxic town entry this dictionary). It is also an example of a toxic ghost town. It is located in the central-northeastern part of Pennsylvania.

The toxic problem found in Centralia is the result of an underground coal fire that began in a mine opening associated with an abandoned mine site located near the town dump in 1962. The underground fire which spread through the mine shaft and the underground coal structures has caused extensive pollution and cave-ins throughout the area. The extensive pollution from the mining fire lead to the town’s near abandonment (about 10 people refuse to move from the site). The relocation of residents began in 1984. In the early 1990, the Governor of Pennsylvania used the state power of eminent domain to claim and condemn all the properties in the town. A decade later, the US Postal service revoked Centralia’s zip code.

Smoke from the underground fire regularly rises through cracks in the earth and sink holes caused by the fire, creating carbon monoxide hazards. The underground fire is estimated to cover some 400 acres, and has encroached on the nearby town of Byrnesville, which has now also been abandoned due to the fire.

It has been estimated that the fire is likely to burn for another 250 years. It is one of a number of underground coal fires found throughout the world, the majority of which are in China. Images of the effects of the fire can be seen by clicking this link.

Further Reading

In this dictionary see:”Toxic Towns” entry


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