No danger in removal of creosote-soaked pilings from Mukilteo pier

MUKILTEO — Air quality tests show that the level of fumes created by removing creosote-soaked pilings from the former tank farm pier were many times below what’s considered a health risk, despite of being a headache-inducing nuisance to neighbors.

Test results show that naphthalene, one of the odor-creating agents triggered by the pilings’ removal, was detected at .002 parts per billion at the tank farm pier. That’s about 1/50,000 of the workplace exposure limit of 10 parts per million considered harmful to workers, said Brian Mannion, a spokesman for the Washington State Ferries. People can detect the smell of naphthalene at extremely low levels.

Naphthalene was just one of 20 chemical contaminants that were tested for and all were well below levels that cause health concerns. The test results averaged the amount of each found over a four-hour period.

“It’s good to know that although people may be smelling it, there don’t appear to be any long-term health impacts,” Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said. “We’re relieved that the state ferry system is taking it seriously.”

The removal of the abandoned military tank farm pier is part of a project to build a new $129 million ferry terminal, replacing the current 60-year-old terminal for the Mukilteo-Clinton route. The pilings in the old pier contain an estimated 7,000 tons of toxic creosote — about 4 percent of all the creosote left in Puget Sound, according to the Washington State Ferries.

Air sampling was conducted at the construction site and in the surrounding neighborhoods at the request of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency after an employee was sent to investigate odor complaints from neighbors earlier this month. A Seattle firm, NVL Laboratories, conducted the air sampling for the ferry system.

The air pollution tests were part of nine-step plan outlined by the Washington State Ferries to reduce the fumes. Other steps in the smell-reduction plan call for a system to mist the air as the wooden pilings are removed to try reduce odors, and for the barge where the pilings are taken to be moved farther offshore. Initial costs of the misting system are estimated at $5,500, Mannion said.

Misting began Wednesday. “It puts a mist of water into the air and the water grabs small airborne particles and makes sure they don’t go very far,” he said. The machine will be used when temperatures are hot and the wind is blowing toward the nearby neighborhood. “It’s our first crack at this,” Mannion said. “We’re really hoping it will work.”

The ferry system also is setting up a hotline so the public can report odor complaints.

Despite these smell-quelling steps, neighbors say the problem still exists, especially when temperatures are warm and the wind is coming from the north.

As one example, Kevin Stoltz said Wednesday afternoon his wife walked outside their home and was hit with an extremely strong fume smell.

“It’s nice (the ferry system) has implemented things so quickly,” he said. “I don’t know if it will work. I hope it does.”

Neighbor Terry Preshaw said she continues to have a sore and hoarse throat from the fumes. Preshaw said she’s glad that the ferry system is removing the pilings since they are soaked in creosote. “But short term, we’re not willing to be the sacrificial lambs to getting the job done,” she said. “We need to be taken care of as well.”

In its report on the odor issue, the ferry system said the problem is caused when a vibratory hammer is used to remove pilings from the abandoned tank farm pier. When the creosote-treated piles are removed from the water, naphthalene is released into the air, it says, and an oil residue is released on the water’s surface. Odors also are created, it says, when sea creatures and sea plants attached to the pilings are exposed to the air.

The sun and this summer’s warm temperatures intensify the odor from the debris as it sits in the barge, the report adds.

Gregerson said that ferry system representatives have been invited to a meeting Sept. 8 so they can update the City Council and the public on steps they’ve taken “and so they hear from the public on their experiences and concerns.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;

Get an update

Representatives of the Washington State Ferries are scheduled to be at the Sept. 8 meeting of the Mukilteo City Council to provide an update on steps they’ve taken to alleviate the smell from the removal of creosote-soaked pilings at the tank farm pier. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Mukilteo City Hall, 11930 Cyrus Way.

The ferry system’s new hotline number to report odor problems is 425-367-8997.

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