Tests so far show few signs of impact from PCBs
W. GHENT–All testing done thus far by the state Department of Environmental Conservation within a 15-mile radius of the site of the August 1 chemical fire at TCI of NY, Inc., 39 Falls Industrial Park Road, have turned up “no detectable levels of PCBs.”
As for details of the cleanup at the transformer recycling firm, DEC Director of Public Information Emily DeSantis told The Columbia Paper Wednesday, August 8 that her agency along with the state Department of Health are awaiting the results of some additional testing expected today (Wednesday) before releasing details about what the clean-up “will look like.”
“All testing results to date show minimal environmental impact and do not show a risk to public health,” Ms. DeSantis wrote in a follow-up email.
“The cleanup will be performed by a contractor hired by TCI under the oversight of DEC and the state Health Department,” she wrote.
West Ghent Fire Chief James Cesternino said in a phone interview this week that Clean Harbors, an environmental clean-up firm, was among those at the site on Tuesday. The firm, headquartered in Norwell, MA, is “the leading provider of environmental, energy and industrial services and the largest hazardous waste disposal company in North America,” according to its website.
Based on DEC test results, the state Department of Health advises that “additional testing in the surrounding community will not be necessary” because “detectable levels of PCBs form the basis to determine the need to conduct [more] tests for other potentially hazardous substances,” according to an August 6 press release from Columbia County Emergency Management.
The release also said that state Department of Agriculture and Markets and assisting state agencies advise there is “no health concern to livestock or produce.”
The focus is now on the investigation into the cause of the blaze and site clean-up.
The TCI fire originated in the rear portion of the company’s 60 by 150-foot, 25-foot high metal building, according to Chief Cesternino. Heavy black smoke poured from the structure and firefighters could see “a glow” through the siding. Firefighters moved to attack the fire from the front and push it back to its place of origin at the rear.
They got no more than 10 feet inside the building when they “heard things popping” and headed back out.
A TCI employee told firefighters that sodium was among the substances stored inside, which when mixed with water becomes explosive, the chief said.
Not knowing if the 55-gallon drums holding the sodium had been compromised, firefighters attack the blaze from the outside using water from deck guns. When the situation became progressively worse and the fire more intense, fire officials made the decision to stop dousing the blaze and evacuate firefighters to a distance of 500 feet.
The chief explained that the continuous flow of water would likely cause a spillover of the company’s containment system, leading to more contamination from the oil inside.
“It was better to let it burn,” said the chief.
After one of the mineral oil tanks “took off like a rocket” and landed about 200 feet away from the structure, firefighters were moved back about a mile from the scene to the Kinderhook Toyota parking lot, while the fire command post from where officials monitored the blaze was about a half mile from the scene at Amanda’s Fireplace. All this happened within a little over an hour from when the fire was reported at 10:24 p.m.
At the same time coordinators and emergency operations personnel notified state and federal agencies, and residents living within a half-mile of the scene were evacuated.
Sometime on August 2 as the fire continued to burn, a foam truck was brought in from the Stratton Air National Guard Base near Schenectady to staunch a couple of the burning tanks, said the chief. He said he finally left the fire scene around 8 p.m. August 2, when the fire was about 98% out.
When the direction of the wind changed, the chief said the Barnwell and Whittier nursing facilities were made aware and advised to stop using their air conditioners.
The continuous plume of smoke created by the burning chemicals moved with the wind direction, which is why officials developed the 15-mile radius as the area of concern. The radius extended north into Rensselaer County; east into Berkshire County; south to just north of the Taghkanic/Gallatin town line and west into Greene County. “Basically [it covered] the whole county,” according to Lieutenant Thom Lanphear of county Emergency Management, who said he heard from some residents close to the scene (within a quarter mile) who had a film of soot on their grounds and plants and one man who had an oily film on his swimming pool.
Directions for cleaning soot and ash were offered by the state Health Department at health.ny.gov.
TCI established a toll-free telephone hotline for any property owners affected by the fire. The phone line has been set up through Zurich Insurance, the company’s insurer, and is available immediately.
“If you were inconvenienced or damaged in any way from the fire, an adjuster will be assigned to evaluate your concerns,” the company said. The toll-free number is 866 837-5021.
What remains of the TCI building looks like an “imploded” metal shell with the rubble of equipment and machinery inside, including the cab and chassis of a tractor trailer, said Chief Cesternino.
The investigation into the fire cause, which is being conducted by the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control, will involve dismantling what remains of the building, piece by piece, said the chief.
Chief Cesternino reported that just two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation during the fire. Lieutenant Lanphear said he knew of no emergency calls received from people experiencing physical symptoms as a result of the fire.
A rekindle of the blaze was reported August 4 at 8:25 p.m. Near the building, a storage container truck full of flattened cardboard was burning. West Ghent and Ghent firefighters had the fire out and were back in service by 9:39 p.m.
In a statement, TCI Vice President of Operations Brian Hemlock said, “TCI is cooperating fully with the various agencies involved in the fire investigation and cleanup efforts. TCI is in full compliance with all environmental and safety regulations.
“We deeply regret any inconvenience, concern or damage caused to surrounding homeowners and businesses during the response efforts.
“TCI employs about 20 full- and part-time workers, who remain on payroll. Our intent is to rebuild our facility, and we are continuing business operations without interruption. Our employees and customers are being notified of the situation.
“We will continue to work with officials to follow the necessary cleanup procedures and will update the public.”
Fire Chief Cesternino praised the efforts of all those involved and the people and businesses who stepped up to offer their support. During the course of the blaze more than 100 firefighters from 19 fire companies worked at and around the fire scene. In light of all the potential hazards present, the chief said most important thing to note is that “everyone went home.”
To contact Diane Valden email .
What was burning
GHENT–An updated inventory of materials that may be present in the building was provided by the TCI facility manager to the Environmental Protection Agency, August 2, according to DEC Director of Public Information Emily DeSantis.
The inventory follows:
*A total of 127,000 gallons of non-hazardous PCB containing oil (less than 50 ppm PCB) within 16 large tanks
*60+ full transformers with non-hazardous PCB containing oil
*10 55-gallon drums of non-hazardous PCB mineral oil (<50 ppm PCB)
*A 500 gallon diesel fuel tank
*Hazardous waste PCB oils (50-449 ppm PCBs)
*2 drums of oily/water mix
*3 – 6,800 lb. transformers
*9 drums of PCB debris/oil
*6 PCB bushings with oil
*2 drums of PCB containing oily water.
In addition, PSS (Power Substation Solutions), another company in partnership with TCI, Inc. stored materials within the building. The owner of PSS is not present at the site, and the EPA has attempted to contact him. The facility manager of TCI provided the following list of materials that are in the portion of the facility used by PSS:
*16 – 55-gallon drums of sodium metal,
*3 cylinders of gas/liquid mix of sodium and oil,
*2 – 150 gallon diesel tanks
*several nitrogen tanks.
Barrett convenes forum on fire
GHENT–Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-103rd) announced that a public information meeting on TCI fire in West Ghent will take place Thursday, August 16, 6:30 p.m. at the West Ghent Volunteer Fire Department station, Route 9H (by Columbia Co. Industrial Business Park entrance).
Following the fire at the transformer recycling plant in West Ghent amid concerns over the possible release of PCB’s, dioxins and volatile organic compounds, Assemblymember Barrett requested that representatives of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and Markets, Department of Environmental Conservation, and Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services participate in a public information meeting with Columbia County residents.
“We look forward to having as many of the Federal, State and County agencies that responded to this fire and conducted the subsequent testing to join us for this meeting to share more detailed information and answer questions of the local residents. I have received numerous calls and emails from business owners, senior citizens, local farmers and concerned citizens expressing their concerns about the aftermath of the fire and what the limited information made available really means for them,” said Assemblymember Barrett in a release announcing the meeting.
“All of the agencies we have been in contact with so far have been very responsive to our request and have said they will work with us to provide appropriate representation at the meeting to field questions. I will continue to reach out to those agencies and departments we have not yet received a response from and encourage them to attend as well.”