Toxic fumes vented from state office building

Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Workers have ventilated a state office building enough to clear harmful amounts of diesel fumes, but the full scope of the damage caused by a weekend fuel spill won't be clear for days, state officials said Tuesday.

A malfunctioning float valve caused a fuel tank on the roof of the eight-story Court Plaza Building in downtown Juneau to overflow Sunday, spilling 100 to 200 gallons of heating oil inside.

The building, nicknamed the Spam Can for its silver color and boxy shape, houses mostly state employees and a handful of private tenants.

A spokesman for Gov. Tony Knowles said safety inspectors ruled out the danger of explosion on Monday but measured harmful levels of benzene in the building and closed it to everyone except cleanup crews trained and equipped for petroleum spills.

The state does not have an estimate yet on the cost of the cleanup, but the building is insured with a $1 million deductible, said Bob King, Knowles press secretary.

By Tuesday, the fumes had dropped to levels safe enough for a cleanup crew to wear only filtered masks, instead of full respirators, said Tom Carson, of Carson Dorn Inc., a firm hired for the cleanup.

The crew planned to remove carpeting, gypsum wallboard and other materials fouled in the spill.

The company won't know how long cleanup will take until crews peel back the wallboard and see whether the fuel seeped into the foam insulation inside the west wall of the building.

''The issue in the long term is how much wall material will have to come down to control the odor so people are happy being back in there,'' Carson said.

Meanwhile, the state continued its search for alternate office space for 140 people shut out of the building.

Some people already have relocated to other state buildings, but many still have no place to work,'' said Jim Duncan, commissioner of the Department of Administration.

The building's state workers got paid days off on Monday and Tuesday.

Duncan said any relocation effort will hinge on whether the move is for the long term or short term. Duncan said the state probably will not know until the end of the week how long the cleanup will take.

The largest private tenant may be the first back in the building. The Alaska State Employees Federal Credit Union on the ground floor escaped damage but reeks of diesel, said CEO Sharon Kelly.

''Some people might find it offensive,'' Kelly said.

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