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Port looks for benzene in old offices

By Edward Stratton

The Daily Astorian

Published on August 3, 2016 9:54AM

The former Port of Astoria offices on Gateway Avenue were in the red building to the right on the waterfront.

The Daily Astorian/File Photo

The former Port of Astoria offices on Gateway Avenue were in the red building to the right on the waterfront.

The Port of Astoria is studying whether its old offices on Gateway Avenue contain harmful amounts of benzene in the air.

The Port Commission voted on Tuesday to spend nearly $46,000 to have the agency’s environmental consultants, Maul Foster & Alongi Inc., study the air quality of the Port’s old offices and nearby maintenance shop, along with the potential pollution from historic fuel leaks underneath.

At a July meeting, former Commissioner Floyd Holcom said Port staff originally moved out of the old offices and into Pier 1 amid air quality concerns. Within a week after Holcom’s comments, the Port moved its public meetings to Pier 1 pending the results of air quality tests.

The old offices sit on top of a historic fuel leak. The Port is in negotiations with oil company insurers and the state Department of Environmental Quality over the cleanup. After Holcom’s caution, staff found a state investigation conducted between 2004 and 2007 that identified benzene in the soil gases beneath the building.

Benzene, a common chemical found in oil, gas and cigarette smoke, is a carcinogen. In the short term, it can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, headaches and tremors, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After more than a year of exposure, benzene can harm bone marrow and cause anemia and excessive bleeding, along with cancer.

Bill Beadie, an industrial hygienist with Maul Foster, said the company will take samples from the air and from below the building’s concrete slab, trying to determine where benzene could come from and whether the levels are of concern.

Port Commissioner Bill Hunsinger initially questioned whether the Port should go with Maul Foster Alongi’s bid or seek out other bids for the project. Other Port commissioners and Executive Director Jim Knight said there are advantages to using Maul Foster, which has been consulting on the cleanup of fuel leaks and stormwater treatment upgrades. The commission’s vote to amend Maul Foster’s lease to include the study was unanimous.

“It would seem we’re under a moral imperative to work on this quickly,” said Port Commission Chairman Robert Mushen, a retired eye doctor with a bachelor’s in chemistry from Stanford University.


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