Noxious fumes enter downtown buildings via storm drains

April 30, 1992|By Roger Twigg | Roger Twigg,Staff Writer

Noxious fumes coming from the downtown storm drain system yesterday made scores of Federal Reserve workers queasy and kept firefighters and state environmental workers busy tracking the odor to its source, a newly constructed parking garage.

Fire officials said no buildings were evacuated and no injuries were reported as the vapors made their way through several miles of storm drain system from the parking garage at 11 S. Eutaw St.

State environmental officials learned of the latest problem Tuesday afternoon when representatives of the Federal Reserve Bank in the500 block of S. Sharp St. reported strong fumes seeping into the building.

Jack Turnbull, the Federal Reserve's assistant vice president, said several employees were temporarily moved after they reported smelling noxious fumes in a building area that has drains leading into the city storm system.

The interior drains were closed off, forcing the fumes elsewhere, Mr. Turnbull said, adding that the fumes smelled like "real strong paint thinner."

The bank official said none of the 400 employees were evacuated.

Michael P. Sullivan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the situation worsened just after noon yesterdaywhen downtown workers complained of the strong odor inside several buildings near the garage.

Mr. Sullivan said investigators traced the fumes to a concrete sealant that wound up in the storm drain system. He said the sealant was used by Harkins Builders Inc. of Silver Spring, a firm that was performing work at the parking garage.

John O. Meyers, of the environmental emergency response team, said the chemical was located in the storm drain and efforts begun to flush it out. Last night, city and state officials continued to flush the chemical from the drain, using a green dye marker that can be seen as it empties into the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. Booms were placed on the Middle Branch to collect thesolvent as it came from the drain.

Mr. Sullivan said officials of Harkins Builders hired a firm to assist in the water cleanup.

On Monday, gasoline fumes permeated the air in the Charles L. Benton Jr. Building at 417 E. Fayette St. and city officials closed it until yesterday. There was no relationship between the fumes in the Benton building and the odor traced to the parking garage, officials said.

Air monitoring showed a sharp drop in the level of petroleum fumes in the Benton building's air yesterday, according to a state environmental spokesman.

The intensity of the fumes dropped after workers vacuumed air from five holes bored in the base of the building. Officials believe the fumes are coming from underground gasoline tanks left by a gas station that was on the site in 1955.

Air pressure inside a subway tunnel under construction nearby apparently pushed the fumes up through the basement and walls of the Benton building.

Subway construction underneath Baltimore Street was halted Tuesday and the air pressure was reduced. Construction is scheduled to resume tomorrow after workers make sure the fumes have been properly vented.

Excavators expect to work through the weekend, so they will be digging well beyond the Benton building by Monday, a Mass Transit Administration spokeswoman said.

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