With the TCI fire story still evolving quickly, some bits and pieces collected from around the web (along with some independent research), follow below—before these get dispersed:
(1) CBS6 in Albany reported at 8:30 pm last night that the TCI fire had reignited. Apparently it was tamped back down by firefighters in about an hour.
(2) Rensselaer County legislators are raising a great deal more of a ruckus about the fire and its aftermath than Columbia County supervisors, so far. According to Fox23, officials in the neighboring county are calling for extensive soil and water testing, studies of the effects on farms and wells, and also a public hearing to discuss the situation.
(3) Register-Star reporter John Mason gleaned important observations when he consulted independent experts for his Saturday article about pollution risks from the fire.
Mason interviewed longtime PCB activist Manna Jo Greene (who spearheaded Clearwater’s work on Hudson River dredging for many years) and the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at UAlbany's School of Public Health, Dr. David Carpenter, who also runs a testing laboratory.
Both Dr. Carpenter and Greene characterized dioxins, which can arise from the burning of PCBs, as even more dangerous than PCBs. Carpenter identified dioxins and furans as potent carcinogens even in small doses, and contributing (in Mason’s paraphrase) to ªheart disease, diabetes, altered fertility, increased vulnerability of immune systems, asthma, and ‘a huge variety of common diseases.’” Calling for the facility not to be reopened, Greene in turn noted that “dioxin is Agent Orange.”
Regarding early assurances from officials about low PCB risks from the TCI fire, Dr. Carpenter cautioned that it “takes a least a week to get a good, sensitive result, whether in air or dust. An analytical result takes days, not hours.” Acknowledging that while some “quick and dirty method” of testing can be performed, Dr. Carpenter told Mason that “it’s irresponsible to make the statement there are no PCBs in the air when you don’t know (for certain). Assurances not based on fact are dangerous in my judgment.”
He added that there is a “great tendency by state agencies to want to reassure people, but it’s dangerous to do that and say it’s all right and then find in retrospect it’s not all right.” The risk at this point, he said, is probably no longer what is left in the air, but in any residues on property and soil, which should be treated “as a very dangerous chemical.”
(4) Along with widespread calls for Columbia County to join its neighbors in Dutchess and Berkshire counties in installing a reverse 911 system to give people timely alerts of major emergencies, emergency management officials also may want to review how emergency maps are drawn.
Official warnings, issued some 10 hours after the fire began, instructed residents in a “15-mile radius” of the fire on Falls Industrial Park Road to stay inside, keep windows closed and turn off air conditioners until an all-clear notice was issued. However, the map circulated along with these warnings depicted a far smaller area of roughly 15 miles in diameter—a 7.5 mile radius.
Even after the map was taken down on sites such as Facebook, officials continued to make ambiguous 15-mile references into their 1:45 pm press conferences. Residents (such as this writer) whose homes are more than 7.5 miles but less than 15 miles as the crow flies from the site were left to wonder whether the alert applied to us or not.
The entirety of Columbia County, at its mid-section, is only about 18 miles wide, and the site was located roughly halfway across that line. As the above diagrams show, a 15-mile radius would cover almost the entire County, while a 15-mile diamter circle would be far more localized.
The difference is a good deal more than double the area: a circle with a 15-mile diameter covers approximately 176 square miles; one with a 15-mile radius covers 707 square miles, a factor of four. A 15-mile radius would stretch counter-clockwise from the bottom of the above map from Taconic State Park to West Stockbridge to Nassau to Castleton and back around to Cairo.
No doubt the radius/diameter confusion was an honest mistake, made in the heat of the moment (definitely no pun intended). Nevertheless, such details are crucial in an emergency, and both residents and first responders deserve to have the County devote enough resources to assigning people to nailing them down.
(5) This site sent a direct query to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson Mary Mears, asking “Did EPA issue any statement Friday regarding the TCI fire in Ghent, NY, e.g. regarding test results?”
Mears replied via email on Saturday:
“No, we have not issued any statements. EPA is in a supporting role with NY State and Columbia County in the lead for this response. I had heard late Friday afternoon that NY and the County may put out a statement, but I am not sure if they did.”
However, multiple news reports on Friday and Saturday contained either statements from Mears, or purported summaries by County officials of EPA findings. A follow-up message to Mears has been sent, asking for a clarification of what EPA’s position and official statements are on the matter.