Neighbors part of environmental monitoring process for wave of Capitol Hill demolitions

(Image: Kathleen Atkins for CHS)

(Image: Kathleen Atkins for CHS)

The demolition this past week of the B&O building at 1650 E. Olive Way raises questions about the identification of environmentally hazardous material and how its handling is being monitored on a Capitol Hill busy with teardowns to make way for new development.

At least in the case of the B&O building, it’s not clear that developers or general and demolition contractors are on the same page with regulatory agencies concerning what constitutes dangerous waste and therefore requires careful handling.

Neighbors, it seems, need to be part of the monitoring process.

According to Andy Ryan of Seattle Public Utilities, the city, county and state, agree that compact fluorescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes, for example, require special handling.

“[It] is the responsibility of the generator (property owner or contractor) to identify if any components of the demolition debris would be designated as a state ‘dangerous waste’—such as lead-based painted surfaces or mercury-containing fixtures,” Ryan tells CHS.

When such materials are present, the building owner must ensure that those materials are removed, contained, transported, and disposed of legally.

(Image: Kathleen Atkins for CHS)

(Image: Kathleen Atkins for CHS)

Early last week, you could still see remnant décor on the outside walls of the roofless B&O Espresso building — lanterns still bolted to the shell had light bulbs in them. They weren’t lit—electricity had been disconnected in previous weeks. But a compact fluorescent light bulb stood in each of the lanterns spaced along the south wall and remainder of the west wall of the building. There were nine of them left.

Other CFL-equipped lanterns had already fallen, earlier in the day, into the rubble of the northwest corner of the building. You can see a couple of those lanterns bite the dust in this video posted by DJSprockets in this comment:

Jill Kurfirst, a representative for landowner John Stoner’s company developing the E Olive Way property, said that the project’s general contractor, Chinn Construction, and the demolition contractor, Demolition Man, are compliant with rules regarding waste management, hazardous or otherwise. But Kurfirst said she was not certain whether CFL fixtures qualified as dangerous waste. She said it’s not her company’s practice to publish policies of their own; they hire contractors to follow the city, county, and state regulations.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are classified along with tube fluorescent lights as hazardous materials because they contain mercury. Their disposal in King County private or commercial garbage containers is prohibited and they can’t be dumped in landfills or at transfer stations.

CFLs aren’t the only risky materials being handled at these sites. Materials including asbestos and lead paint must be treated as dangerous waste and managed according to rules defined by Seattle Municipal Code and the State of Washington Department of Ecology. Meanwhile, Capitol Hill is ripping down big, old buildings at a steady pace.

[mappress mapid=”4″]The Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County, Washington publishes rules and guidelines for disposal of hazardous wastes for both household and businesses. The site includes a list of recyclers to help businesses and householders deal with collection and disposal of dangerous waste.

Demolition crews are much more likely to encounter significant quantities of dangerous materials than the average householder. According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, the owner of a demolished building is responsible for any generation of dangerous waste. But contractors can certainly mishandle materials to their own detriment and to that of people in the surrounding neighborhood.

A few days into the B&O work, A Demolition Man backhoe operator started tearing into one of the B&O building’s standing walls.

A line of lanterns, each equipped with a still-intact CFL, were bolted to the wall upon which the cat’s claw descended and took hold. A neighborhood resident standing nearby said “Hey!” She lifted up her camera and shot a series of photographs while the cat operator lifted away a section of the wall above a lantern. But then, the claw stopped moving and the cat stopped moving. A couple of minute later, a construction worker came around the corner of the building carrying a ladder. He set it up under a lantern, climbed up, and unscrewed the light bulb in the fixture. Later that day, the lantern-bedecked wall still stood next to E Olive Way, but all of the CFLs were gone.

All gone (Image: @kimerrikin with permission to CHS)

All gone (Image: @kimerrikin with permission to CHS)

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4 thoughts on “Neighbors part of environmental monitoring process for wave of Capitol Hill demolitions

  1. Looks like the next old building down is Weatherford.
    Cover up, neighbors.
    I’m sure there’s lots of lead paint over the century.

  2. In a demolition of a building that old, the exposure to CFL’s – especially in an open-air environment – is the last thing you have to worry about. Asbestos, creosote, lead, diesel emmissions from the demo equipment, dust…. Those are the real hazards.

    Plus, it’s important to point out that there is no such thing as a CFL fixture. There are fixtures that are designed to handle CFL bulbs, but the hazardous material – the 4-5mgs of Mercury – are in the bulb.

  3. With the amount of demolition going on, I wonder if enough toxic dust accumulates in the sidewalk cracks and other nooks and crannies to be detectable by testing? Does the city or some jurisdiction have the capacity and the authority to spot check dust in public places for accumulations of nasty shit, the way they did around New York after 9/11? Maybe not this week, after the rain and wind have scrubbed the air and flushed the gutters, but when the weather dries out and the demo continues apace, it would be good to know if there’s enough lead and mercury drifting around our byways to account for some of the odd behavior seen in these parts,