Officials believe a recent chemical spill at the Port of Olympia was caused by an exploding valve on a storage tank filled with hydrogen peroxide, the port’s environmental programs director told the commission on Monday night.
The explosion was one of several details shared at the meeting about the Jan. 28 spill, which led to the evacuation of several businesses within a quarter mile of the port’s marine terminal.
The port has a new stormwater treatment plant, and hydrogen peroxide is used to re-introduce oxygen into the stormwater before it is released into Budd Inlet.
Environmental Programs Director Alex Smith told the commission that the port is set to hire an engineering firm this week. It will assess what happened, determine a specific cause and make recommendations to the port.
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“I’m hoping within a month to get some answers,” Smith said.
She said it appeared that a valve connected to the 3,300-gallon tank had combusted, or exploded.
The hydrogen peroxide portion of the treatment system remains offline, she said, although the plant continues to treat stormwater.
The treatment plant serves the marine terminal, which is home to a large log yard.
Commissioner George Barner asked how hazardous hydrogen peroxide is and whether other hazardous chemicals are used by the port.
Smith said the port receives a diluted form of hydrogen peroxide. “I don’t believe the solution is designated ‘hazardous,’” she said.
As for other chemicals, which she didn’t name, they are kept in powder form, which presents less of a risk than they would in liquid form, Smith said.
The spill took place around noon Jan. 28. The chemical billowed up from the port and city streets in the form of white vapor.
The evacuation was largely handled by the Olympia Fire Department, which reported no injuries that day.
But Marcia Drake, 41, of Olympia, who contacted The Olympian on Sunday, said she wasn’t feeling well after the spill.
Drake had gone to lunch about noon that same day at Mercato’s, an Italian restaurant within the evacuation zone. She walked through some of the vapor on her way to the restaurant, she said.
Once inside, restaurant customers were told to stay indoors for about an hour, and then they left. An emergency responder told her to hold her breath as she ran to her car, she recalled.
The next day she went to the Westcare Clinic in Olympia for bronchial spasms and major irritation, possible burns in her nose and airways. By Saturday, she had gone to the emergency room at Providence St. Peter Hospital, where she said she was diagnosed with “chemical pneumonitis,” an inflammation of the lungs.
Following that, she missed a week of work, Drake said.
“Not sure where to report this but I am still not well,” she said Sunday.
Citing patient privacy rules, hospital spokesman Chris Thomas couldn’t confirm whether Drake had checked into the ER. But “chemical pneumonitis” is a legitimate diagnosis, he said.
Spokespersons for the Olympia Fire and Police departments said they weren’t aware of any first responders reporting respiratory problems.