Olympia fuel leak taints soil under site

Thurston County has recommended that the vacant Capitol City Studios at 911 Fourth Ave. in Olympia be included on the state Department of Ecology's list of "confirmed or suspected contaminated sites" after gasoline was discovered in soil there last week.

A hydrogeologist with the Department of Ecology's toxic-cleanup program cautioned that it is too early to say whether the suspected contamination endangers the public. Department of Ecology hydrogeologist Cris Matthews said that although possible gasoline contamination is not taken lightly, there are many other similar sites statewide, mostly at old gasoline stations.

"Sites that progress to this point may or may not be a problem," he said. "Most of the sites that we investigate, we find them not to be a threat or pose a problem."

The potential contamination was reported to authorities June 26, when construction workers excavating a plumbing trench in the basement floor smelled gasoline, according to records obtained from Thurston County's environmental health division.

"As the excavation continued, the water table was encountered at approximately 1 foot below the basement floor and appeared to contain free-floating gasoline," a state Department of Ecology initial investigation field report says.

Capitol City Studios is next to the Time gasoline station at Fourth Avenue and Quince Street. It is one block downhill from a former gasoline station that closed after an environmental cleanup years ago.

The source of the potential contamination at Capitol City Studios has not been determined, county environmental health specialist Gerald Tousley said.

The owner of Capitol City Studios, Steven Mullen, said Tuesday that he purchased the property about six months ago, and he had no idea that there was potential contamination underground. He said the site was formerly a recording studio, and he had planned to renovate the site into studios for artists.

"We're basically on hold until we get more information," Mullen said Tuesday. Mullen said he still has high hopes for continuing the renovation of the building.

The state Department of Ecology's initial field report indicates that "Soil and groundwater sample results confirmed the presence of gasoline and benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene (BTEX) at concentrations exceeding Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA)."

Matthews said all of those substances are volatile organic compounds that have toxic health effects, and their presence "is a cause for concern." What's next

Authorities are taking steps to assess the potential threat at Capitol City Studios, said Department of Ecology hydrogeologist Cris Matthews. The county health department might perform a site-hazard assessment to determine the extent of the contamination, or the owner might enter a voluntary cleanup program for the site, he said.