SUNY New Paltz Dioxin and PCB Chronology, through 2000
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- Monsanto buys Swann Chemical Co. and commercial production of PCBs goes to full throttle. They are the sole US manufacturer of the chemicals, which are used in everything from surgical implants to electrical transformers; from ink and dye carriers to fireproofing for children's clothes. Swann's factory in Anniston, Alabama will become one of Monsanto's biggest PCB disasters.
- Silent Spring
by Rachel Carson, about the pesticide DDT, sparks environmental awareness and leads a Swedish scientist, Dr. Soren Jensen, to discover and investigate PCBs in the environment. He is the scientist who actually named the chemical, which up to that point had been called by various trade names.
- New Scientist publishes "Report of a New Chemical Hazard," describing how PCBs have been found in human blood and numerous other locations in the environment.
Parker Theater was severely contaminated in the 1991 electrical incident. It is now open to the public, shown in front of the Shawangunk Ridge that is emblematic of New Paltz. Photo taken 2007 by Eric Francis.
- While publicly denying the problems linked to PCBs, Monsanto privately acknowledged them in its internal "Pollution Abatement Plan," which admitted that "the problem involves the entire United States, Canada and sections of Europe, especially the United Kingdom and Sweden.... [O]ther areas of Europe, Asia and Latin America will surely become involved. Evidence of contamination [has] been shown in some of the very remote parts of the world."
- Monsanto engages in fraudulent testing with its product safety lab, IBT Laboratories of Northbrook, IL, concealing their discovery that PCBs are carcinogenic in rats. Concentrations of 100 ppm in their food killed all the rats in one study, but IBT Labs said in its report, at the request of Monsanto, that the chemicals were "non-carcinogenic."
- Congress passes the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), banning the new manufacture of PCBs as an imminent threat to human health and the environment. Many exceptions are granted, allowing PCB products to remain in use in buildings and in equipment located outside. There is evidence that Monsanto's collaboration with IBT Labs intentionally delayed regulation and banning of PCBs by the federal government.
- Network transformer explodes and burns in the state office building in Binghamton, New York, contaminating the structure with PCBs, dioxins and dibenzofurans. This will become the infamous $50 million cleanup of an $8 million building that state officials vowed would never happen again. Unfortunately, that goal was not effected by removing antiquated PCB equipment from state buildings. Incredibly or not, New York State does not take the cue and remove PCB transformers in other buildings. There are more than 450 PCB transformers in the SUNY system alone at this time.
Dec. 29, 1991
- Seven PCB transformers overheat, explode and/or burn on the State University of New York at New Paltz campus. Buildings involved include Bliss, Capen, Gage and Scudder dormitories, the Coykendall Sciences Building and Parker Theater.
Jan. 20, 1992
- Student Leader News Service of New Paltz, NY reports that dioxins have been found in "astronomical" levels, quoting a scientist at New York State's Wadsworth Laboratories. The story is carried statewide by the Associated Press.
Jan. 26, 1992
- After presenting an analytical test result showing that PCB contamination in Bliss Hall was one million times the "safe" limit, the state and its contractors try to back off and say it was never really true. "When is a million not a million?" asked Lorraine Ventura, writing in the Daily Freeman
. "When the company coordinating the cleanup of toxins at SUNY New Paltz changes its story about the level of contamination in a campus building." Ventura is pulled off the story and assigned to other, less pressing matters. It is not widely known that at the time, the publisher of the Freeman
, Ira Fusfeld, was sitting on the College Council.
Jan. 30, 1992
- Capen Residence hall is re-opened to 190 students with no tests having been run on key areas (heat, vents, electrical conduits among them), just 33 days after two transformers smoked and burned in that building.
Feb. 1, 1992
- Gage Residence Hall is re-opened to 370 students with no tests having been run on key areas. The building is re-opened with 11 areas sealed off for contamination, under what will become known as the "Gage-type scenario." When students go home for vacations, decontamination proceeds; when they return, contaminated areas are sealed off again.
Feb. 10, 1992
- Student Leader News Service reports that according to the transcript of police radio transmissions the morning of Dec. 29, an explosion occurred in Gage Hall's transformer room. In an editorial, the news service warns that "560 young students may become one of the largest human studies ever done on the long term risks associated with exposure to some of the deadliest chemicals known to humanity."
- Scudder Residence Hall is reopened after a partial cleanup, with excavation work still proceeding deep beneath the transformer vault. No tests have been run on the heating system of the building, despite the state's secret discovery that summer that the heating system in Bliss Hall served as a pathway for contamination. The Bliss radiators are washed with Tide, but the "pipe chases" -- spaces where pipes are run -- remain reservoirs for contamination.
- PCBs found in test well beneath Parker Theater. The state installs another 12 test wells to monitor the spread of the underground plume.
- Students are allowed to retrieve belongings from half of Bliss Hall's rooms; property in the other half is sent to a toxic waste landfill. Some is reportedly sold to area pawnshops.
Dec. 17, 1992
- Huguenot Herald
reports that a smoke bomb test in Bliss Hall, done that summer, proves that contamination spread through the heating system in that building. No tests are run on heat systems in adjoining buildings. This information was revealed through a project engineer, Allison Smith, who inadvertently told a reporter about the discovery.
Dec. 31, 1992
- Huguenot Herald
reports that state officials claim they will not monitor buildings for toxins once the cleanup is complete. The project in the first year cost $20 million.
- Fred Munson, a toxins expert for Greenpeace, says, "Even the concept that there's some level of dioxin that students can be exposed to on a daily basis where they live is just a joke. There is no safe level."
Jan, 31, 1993
- The New York Times
columnist puts article about Eric F. Coppolino's reporting on to page B-1 of the Sunday Metro section, paving the way for New Paltz to become a nationally-known issue.
May 5, 1993
- SUNY New Paltz bans Eric F. Coppolino from the campus after he attempts to interview the college president, Alice Chandler, and three other administrators about the untested vents and heat in the dormitories.
- Mr. Coppolino sues the college and its administrators in federal district court for violations of his 1st and 14th amendment rights. He is represented by Alan N. Sussman, an education civil rights lawyer.
- Bliss Residence Hall is reopened to 190 students after partial cleanup. Once an all women's dorm, the building is now co-ed.
Aug. 26, 1993
- Woodstock Times
reports that there was a clear pattern of contamination in Gage Residence Hall rooms which have ventilation ducts -- which should have prompted state officials to test the vents for contamination. State officials deny the existence of vents when asked by students and parents.
- Gov. Mario Cuomo, verbally cornered while on a visit to the campus, commits to investigating whether the ventilation systems in Capen and Gage have been tested, and concludes in an Oct. 27 letter that they have not.
Oct. 28, 1993
- Environmental Protection Agency fines SUNY New Paltz $158,750 for mishandling PCBs and for failure to follow numerous provisions of Toxic Substances Control Act rules and regulations.
- Under the guidance of Dr. Ward Stone, Eric F. Coppolino of the Woodstock Times
, Christopher McGregor and a student take a sample out of a Gage Hall ventilation duct. The sample is sent to Dr. Stone for analysis.
- Independent samples taken from Capen and Gage hall by Eric F. Coppolino reveal that PCBs have spread through the ventilation system and heat system, as well as other areas in the building.
- New York State Attorney General settles Mr. Coppolino's lawsuit for $20,000 and an apology stating that his civil rights may have been violated by banning him from the campus. This is reported by The New York Times
in an article by Mike Winerip.
July 21, 1994
- Woodstock Times
reports that the Gage Hall vent has tested positive at 100ppm for PCBs. The sample was taken above a stove in a student kitchen lounge. State officials deny that contamination is present, and say the building is safe. Contamination at about 50ppm is also found in a wallpaper sample from the building. Behind the scenes, they test every vent in Gage Hall and determine that 39 out of 40 vent outlets in the building are contaminated. Meanwhile, cleanup work has been proceeding over the past 18 months while students were on various breaks and vacations.
July 28, 1994
- Dr. John Halwey of the New York State Department of Health claims that there is "no evidence of contamination" in the Gage Vents. Asked what would constitute evidence of contamination, he declines to answer.
, the magazine of the Sierra Club, publishes article by Eric F. Coppolino reporting the 50-year history of PCBs. Publication is previewed in a New York Times
article earlier that summer.
Aug. 18, 1994
- Woodstock Times
reports that Gage Hall has undergone a "partial and unannounced cleanup of PCBs from a dormitory at SUNY New Paltz last week." The vents were cleaned to the arm's length because to go deeper would have required demolishing parts of the building. According to Woodstock Times
, "Right up to the time of the cleanup, officials claimed ther was no evidence of contamination in the building. The partial cleanup was ordered after new tests confirmed the widespread presence of contamination in the dormitory vents."
The New York State Department of Health denies any knowledge of the cleanup. In a letter dated August 11 and addressed to college president Alice Chandler, Palen said that the vent cleaning project would continue on the next student break, presumably winter vacation in December. According to Palen, the air vents have been cleaned "as far as could be reached" by the arms of clean-up workers. Additional cleanup was never done, and by 2004, the vents in Gage Hall were back to nearly the same level of contamination.
Aug. 25, 1994
- Monona Rossol, an industrial hygienist who consults colleges, says that "Partially cleaned ventilation ducts contaminated with PCBs pose a serious danger to building occupants...contaminated dust and dirt from these ducts almost surely will end up in student living areas."
- State officials declare the PCB cleanup over. Work will proceed for three more years on the Coykendall Sciences Building.
- Roger Bowen, the new campus president, calls for nationally noted PCB expert Dr. Ward Stone to come to the campus to see if PCBs are still present. "I think that what we want to do is indicate we'll do everything necessary in order to put people's minds to rest. Stone helped find the PCBs in the Gage vents three years earlier.
- Bowen says he was only being sarcastic when he proposed Ward Stone coming to the campus. "I want somebody who is independent and an expert, and I feel he's neither," Bowen said. Stone, in response, said that the process of documenting toxins is so simple as to be "child's play," but that those who do so often face anger from state authorities.
- Bowen redeems himself somewhat at a meeting of health officials in Gage Hall, when he tells students [as quoted in the April 24, 1997 Huguenot-Herald
], "Are [PCBs in the dorms] dangerous to your health? I think the answer is generally no. Are the PCB levels within state and federal tolerance levels? The answer is yes. But to say that there are no PCB levels would be to misspeak, would be to tell a lie." He is not, however, commenting on locations that were not tested, where levels of the toxins at the point source are unknown - and he seems to be unaware of the endocrine disruption issue, where toxins work at many times their previously suspected potency.
In response to the controversy he has created, Bowen appears at a forum in Gage Hall where state officials try to convince students that the PCBs in their building won't harm them.
- Jennifer Folster, who in 1993 lived in next to a sealed room on Capen Hall, goes public with her belief that her leukemia was caused by living in the building. Dr. Theodora Colborn, author of Our Stolen Future
, says: In light of the evidence that has surfaced since 1991 of the long-term health effects of dioxin, it is not surprising that Ms. Folster is raising concerns about the cause of her cancer." Jennifer dies the next month after choosing to stop receiving transfusions.
To Be Continued in Part Two