Clean-up of 'Spam Can' may be done next month

State averts second Court Plaza Building spill

Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2001

Work crews are expected to finish cleaning diesel from the Court Plaza Building within a month, but some 140 tenants still might be banned from the so-called Spam Can through the end of June.

The state wants to make sure the air quality is safe before opening the Main Street building to tenants, mostly state employees, said Department of Administration Commissioner Jim Duncan.

"We want to make sure we've got all the work done and we feel comfortable that the reports show clearly we've got good air quality and there is no health problem moving folks back into that building," he said.

An oil tank on the roof of the eight-floor building overflowed in December after a float valve malfunctioned, prompting the system to continue pumping fuel from a main tank below the building. More than 100 gallons of oil trickled through the walls, fouling carpets, insulation and wallboard, and rendering all but the ground floor uninhabitable.

The mishap almost repeated itself last weekend. A new float valve on the rooftop tank malfunctioned April 22, but this time an alarm went off and only about a cup of fuel spilled before a worker shut down the system, said Duncan, who did not know why the new float valve broke down. Duncan said the state plans to prevent future spills by wiring the system so the pump shuts off when the alarm sounds.

"The alarm went off and people responded," Duncan said. "It worked the way it was supposed to work, but for further protection, we're going to have it wired."

Duncan said the first round of air quality tests showed acceptable levels of diesel and no measurable levels of benzine, which is linked to cancer. The state will continue air tests over the next several weeks to make sure the levels meet federal safety standards, he said.

Crews still are replacing diesel-soaked carpet and painting new wallboard inside the building. Workers also are removing exterior panels to replace diesel-soaked wallboard. The crews are under contract to finish the work by May 25. The tenants have temporarily moved to other downtown offices.

The cost of the clean up is estimated at $1.2 million. The state is liable for the first $1 million, which it will fund through an account set up for emergencies. The rest is covered by insurance, Duncan said.

Kathy Dye can be reached at

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