MUKILTEO — Following complaints from neighbors that removing creosote-soaked pilings from a former tank farm pier is creating headache-inducing fumes, the state Department of Ecology has approved a plan to mist the pilings with water to try to reduce the smell.
The state ferry system’s request to use the misting machine was approved Tuesday, said Larry Altose, a Department of Ecology spokesman. He said the agency worked to give the request quick approval. “We’re very aware that a chemical odor like this is disruptive to people’s lives,” Altose said.
The pier is being demolished as 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 pier was part of the U.S. Air Force’s bulk fuel storage facility, which closed in 1989. 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.
Misting the pilings is part of a plan outlined to neighbors and Mukilteo city officials Tuesday evening to try to reduce the odors. Neighbors say the smell varies in intensity from day to day, but seems to worsen with hot temperatures and onshore breezes. “It’s hard to get people to understand how bad it is unless they’ve experienced it first hand,” said Kevin Stoltz, who lives upwind from the demolition site.
Misting is expected to start next week, Brian Mannion, a ferry service spokesman, said Wednesday. Plans also call for covering a nearby barge the pilings are being loaded onto. “This is the only project that anyone’s aware of that’s generated these odor complaints,” he said. “We’re taking innovative steps to deal with it.”
Terry Preshaw, who lives uphill from the demolition project, said the odors have caused burning in her throat and eyes. She said she’s pleased that the ferry system is listening to neighborhood concerns and taking steps to mitigate the fumes. “That said, if this doesn’t get better, we’re going to have to ask them to cease operations if these measures do not improve our situation,” she said.
The pilings are being removed with a device called a vibration hammer. While the machine minimizes disturbance to sediment, the friction caused by the device can heat the pilings and the creosote they contain, Altose said. “If it’s warm enough, it can release vapors,” he said. The ferry system asked for approval to use a mister on the pilings as they’re being extracted “so the nuisance odors are stopped,” Altose said.
Air sampling was conducted Monday at the construction site and in the surrounding neighborhood at the request of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, after an employee was sent to investigate odor complaints last week. A Seattle firm, NVL Laboratories, is conducting the air sampling with initial results expected next week.
The air sampling was conducted for four hours and is expected to cost about $5,000, Mannion said. “We’re looking to see what the results are,” he said. “If we need to come back, we will come back.”
Preshaw said she’s concerned that samples weren’t taken when the fumes were most intense. Stoltz said that even if testing shows the fumes don’t pose a health risk, the odors are having an effect on neighbors. “If you have a home in that situation, it’s a huge concern,” he said.
The piling and pier removal project is scheduled to continue until February 2016. There will be a six-month pause so as to not interfere with fish migrations, then work is scheduled to resume again in August. The demolition project is expected to be completed in February 2017.
Construction on the new terminal is expected to begin in 2017 and its scheduled to open in 2019.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.