Noxious odor rises from removal of pilings on Mukilteo waterfront

MUKITEO — Neighbors say that demolishing an old military pier to make way for a new ferry terminal has had an unintended consequence — an odor so pungent that it makes their eyes water, gives them headaches, and leaves them feeling nauseated.

The smell is being created as creosote-soaked wooden pilings are removed from the water and lifted onto a nearby barge. The demolition work is the first step in a project to build a new $129 million ferry terminal, replacing the current 60-year-old terminal.

Kevin Stoltz operates a computer networking business in an office next to his home that is uphill from the construction site. He said he first noticed the smell on a morning jog Tuesday. “When I got to the Sound Transit station, the smell was so bad I couldn’t even breathe,” he said. “I had a headache all afternoon.”

Later in the day, he said he went to a room on the second floor of his home. The smell was “absolutely terrible,” he said. “Honestly, I thought we’d have to sleep at a hotel.” Neighbors directly up the hill from the construction site catch the on-shore breezes, and with it, the smell, he said.

Terry Preshaw, an attorney who lives in the city’s Old Town neighborhood, said that while the stench wasn’t so noticeable Wednesday, it was “back with a vengeance” Thursday evening.

The fumes created a burning sensation in her eyes and “permeated my lungs and nose,” she said. Preshaw said she was a biology major as an undergraduate. “There are thousands of compounds found in creosote harmful to humans,” she said. “I don’t understand how this was not considered in the grand planning that went around this entire project.”

She called for demolition to be halted until the problem has been fixed.

After receiving 10 complaints from neighbors, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency sent an inspector to investigate, said Joanne Todd, a spokeswoman for the regional agency.

The inspector went to the home of one of the people who had filed a complaint, but didn’t detect an odor, she said. Then he went to the construction site. “The people doing the work said creosote odors were coming from using a vibratory hammer to shake the piling lose,” she said. “That’s what causes the creosote to get hot and smoke.”

The inspector advised the ferry system of odor nuisance regulations, she said, and requested air sampling to be conducted at the site. People can detect the creosote odors at extremely low concentrations, Todd said. “Our noses are very sensitive to it.”

Brian Mannion, a spokesman for the Washington State Ferries, said that air sampling is expected to begin next week for hydrocarbons and other potentially dangerous chemicals that easily evaporate into the air. Naphthalene, an ingredient in creosote, can be detected at .08 parts per million, he said.

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said she met with ferry system representatives Wednesday. “I really pushed them to move as fast as possible,” she said. “If there are health impacts, we want to take care of our residents. We take it very seriously.” Gregerson said she helped set up a meeting this coming week so that neighbors can meet with ferry system staff.

Mannion said the pier was built in 1951. Removing the pilings involves dealing with wooden structures that have been in the water a long time, he said. The pilings contain an estimated 7,000 tons of toxic creosote — about 4 percent of all the creosote left in Puget Sound, according to Nicole McIntosh, director of terminal engineering for the Washington State Ferries.

Mannion said that a solution to the odor problem will depend on the results of the air sampling. “I think everyone has lived in the presence of an annoying smell,” he said. “We want to mitigate that as much as possible. We’re concerned about being good neighbors and also keeping our workforce safe that works closer to this.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;


Odor complaints can be submitted to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency online at

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