Officials won't know the severity of a hazardous-waste leak in south downtown Salt Lake City for another three weeks when tests on water and soil samples are complete, a city safety official said.
Officials will drill test wells this week at 679 S. Second West, former site of Salt Lake City Fire Station No. 12, to measure the extent of the plume and take soil and water samples, said city Safety Coordinator Judson Gross.A worker renovating the building now occupying the site smelled fumes while digging in the area Monday, Gross said. Initial tests found solvents used to clean and service fire engines may have contaminated area groundwater, he said.
Samples will be sent to the City-County Health Department to be tested, Gross said. City-County Health officials were unsure whether they would conduct the test or whether a contractor would.
"We're in the very beginning stages of this thing," said Garth Miner, water quality engineer for the department.
Solvents used by the fire station include toluene, xylene and chlorobenzene, Gross said.
"All of those are hazardous materials and all are potential toxic materials . . . and many end up being known carcinogens," said Brent Bradford, director of the state Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste.
But the actual danger associated with the lead is unknown now, officials stress. Gross said test could prove that harmless levels of the chemicals exist and that groundwater and soil in the area remains uncontaminated.
The city is overseeing the effort to test the spill, but Bradford said the state would like to be involved in the process.
"The main concern is that whatever is done in terms of a corrective action meets the requirements of the local, state and federal governments," he said. "We do feel there needs to be some involvement on the state's part."
The plume was discovered by workers renovating the old Stokes Brothers Building, now owned by Wagstaff's, an automobile sales company. The building will be the company's new used-car service center.
A crew was working to uncover a sump system shown in the building's plans to be connected with the city's sewer system. The system was to carry away solvents used when the site supported the fire station.
But the crewman discovered that a pipe to connect the sump and the sewer system did not exist, Gross said. Instead of draining into the sewer, solvents were draining into the groundwater, he said.
It isn't clear whether contractors failed to install the connection or whether it was subsequently removed, Gross said. Nor was it clear whether city inspectors failed to notice whether the connection was installed.
"We're not going to take responsibility for not catching it on inspection," City Attorney Roger Cutler said. In general, all past and current owners are responsible under the law for cleaning up such spills, he added.
Salt Lake City built the fire station at the site in the early 1960s, Gross said. In the early 1980s it was sold to Stokes Bros. and in 1988 it was sold to Wagstaff's.
The city already spent $6,000 this month cleaning the sump pump for Wagstaff's after it was found to be contaminated with solvents used in the former fire station, Gross said.