Subway tunneling halted for addition of worker safeguards from gas fumes

December 19, 1990|By Lynda Robinson

Work was suspended on subway construction in East Baltimore yesterday until the contractor can install equipment to protect its crews from exposure to gasoline fumes, a spokeswoman for the Mass Transit Administration said.

It was the second time in a little over a month that construction has been halted on the twin tunnels being dug from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Charles Center. A construction mishap Nov. 15 opened a crater on Orleans Street, interrupting work for more than a week.

The new delay is being caused by gasoline-contaminated soil, said Helen L. Dale, the MTA spokeswoman. A spill more than 15 years ago soaked the soil 35 to 45 feet underground with gasoline.

Fumes from the soil are so strong that the contractor, Kiewit-Shea Joint Venture, ordered its tunnel workers to wear breathing filters on Dec. 7. Some workers also have been using air tanks.

State health officials are still waiting for the results of air tests in the tunnels, but Ms. Dale said the con

tractor will be installing more sophisticated ventilation equipment and other safeguards before work resumes on the project. They were unsure how long work will be delayed. According to Ms. Dale, no workers have become ill from the fumes. The decision to suspend construction and improve the ventilation was precautionary, she said.

Environmental officials suspect the gasoline leaked from an underground storage tank at a service station that once stood at the southwest corner of Orleans Street and Broadway. A fast-food restaurant occupies the site now.

Health officials are most concerned about level of benzene, a component of gasoline and a suspected carcinogen, in the tunnel air.

Ms. Dale said the work stoppage would not cause any serious delay in the completion of the 1.5-mile addition to the Metro line, which is scheduled to open in 1994.

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