Ghent resident Patti Matheney of GhentCANN attended Monday night’s meeting at the Ghent Community Center of the Columbia County Environmental Management Council. Though the meeting was scheduled on Columbus Day, some 60 people still managed to attend.
According to Matheney’s notes, the meeting was attended by Ghent Zoning Enforcement Officer Gil Raab, and two Ghent Town Board members, Pete Nelson and Richard Sardo (who apparently stayed only a few minutes). County Board of Supervisors chairman Pat Grattan was also there for much though not all of the discussion. Assembly member Didi Barrett, who organized a previous forum on the fire, sent a representative.
EMC chair Ed Simonsen posed 10 questions developed by the Committee to Dr. David Carpenter, a PCB expert affiliated with SUNY Albany. Previously, Dr. Carpenter and others, such as cancer specialist Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, have questioned the methodology used by the State to test for PCBs, and the cancellation of promised tests for highly-carcinogenic dioxins known to form from the burning of PCBs.
The 10 questions posed by the Committee were as follows, as recorded by Matheney, with notes regarding Dr. Carpenter’s answers:
- Have there been incidents like TCI in other communities, and if so was it handled differently? Dr. Carpenter knew of no similar incidents. He explained that much of the State testing approach was apparently based on the infamous PCB contamination of a State office building in Binghamton in the early 1980s, but that case was quite distinct from the Ghent fire, as it involved the indoor contamination of ventilation systems, not an uncontrolled outdoor burn. Nevertheless, it required 14 years to clean up
- Where would toxins be found from a fire like this? Contamination from the fire would be most likely found in soot, according to Dr. Carpenter. He commented that he would not have bothered so much with all of the air, water, and soil testing done by the State, focusing instead on scraping soot off of surfaces, sampling and testing that. [Editor’s note: Nearby residents who had visible deposits of black clumps of material from the fire on their decks, pools and cars reported that State officials refused to take samples.]
- Can local residents or scientitest be trained to do the testing? Not really, said Dr. Carpenter, as certified labs are needed to do accurate testing.
- If TCI doesn’t rebuild, will Ghent be left with a “brownfield”? Dr. Carpenter indicated that it was too early to know for sure.
- If TCI rebuilds, what can be done to reassure the community that everything is safe? State and Federal agencies should do their job, Dr. Carpenter argued, for example by making sure that up-to-date safety measures are in place.
- What role did sodium have in the TCI plant? Dr. Carpenter said that he does not know. [Editor’s note: Various corporate and government websites show that sodium, which can by highly explosive when exposed to moisture, is sometimes used to dechlorinate or “detoxify” PCB wastes. However, it does not appear that TCI or either of the two other companies occupying the building have obtained permits to do so in Ghent; indeed, the presence of two additional companies in the building, let alone sodium, seemingly was a surprise to officials.]
- What limitations to PCBs should be required if TCI were to rebuild? Everything is potentially risky, Dr. Carpenter advised, suggesting that all regulations would need to be strictly enforced.
- What was the potential impact to agriculture from the fire? Dr. Carpenter stressed the importance of keeping toxins out of the food supply to avoid health risks. While he reassured the audience that the possibility of PCBs being absorbed into plants and vegetables was low, that soot could land on these and they need to be washed. However, the risk of absorption into meats by animals eating contaminated grasses or feed was described as much more potentially serious.
- Is the exposure to PCBs and dioxins worse for children? Yes, Dr. Carpenter answered.
- Did the testing done by the State show the correct analysis? Dr. Carpenter still suspects that the testing was faulty. He again faulted the NYS Department of Health (DOH) for not testing for dioxins, calling that omission “inexcusable” and “half-assed.” [Editor’s note: Is that a scientific term?] He believes the labs used should still have the samples collected, and that it should still be possible for more testing to be done.
While noting that their committee has no direct enforcement power, the EMC indicated that it would make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to request more testing by the NYS DOH.
Dr. Carpenter also discussed a case in Louisiana in which two immigrant workers are suing a company similar to TCI, where they had worked for years with no training on how to handle toxic substances. Both now apparently have cancer. He mentioned as well that he is working with Barrett to obtain the necessary chromatograms.
Matheney further reports that members of the public askedquestions toward the end of Monday’s meeting, with most wanting to know how to go about getting more testing done. Downwind resident Mark Johnson mentioned that he had heard that the State Police burned their uniforms after the fire, but that local fireman have not. Johnson also alluded to the alleged use of “Mexican workers” at the facility.
Update: John Mason has posted his report on the meeting at The Register-Star’s website.