Lingering Chemicals in Binghamton's State Office Building?

By Mike Trim

July 22, 2010 Updated Feb 7, 2006 at 12:36 AM EDT

The small electrical fire broke out in the basement on Feb. 5, 1981.

Burning transformer coolant sent toxic soot to all floors of the 18 story building.

They were chemicals like PCB's and Dioxin.

The building was closed for almost 14 years while the state spent $50 million to clean it up.

It was declared clean and re-opened in December, 1994.

The final report on the cleanup was issued in 2003 by the State Health Department.

It showed chemical levels so low, they're the same as those found in buildings that never had a fire.

But, for at least one man, concerns still linger.

More than 550 people work inside Binghamton's State Office Building.

And dozens of others walk inside every day for business.

The State Health Department stopped inspecting the building for toxic chemicals in 1999, because dioxin and PCB levels were well below safe standards.

Some workers say they're content the building's past poses no threat to their health.

"I feel safe, I don't think there's any problems at this point. I know they did all the testing and everything like that. And from everything I've seen, the results seem to be pretty good," said Bill Seaman of BInghamton.

"The report that they had out, I read it, everything was fine. All the levels are down to normal. I just have no problem," said Danny Davis of BInghamton.

Dr. Arnold Schecter was Broome County's Health Commissioner at the time of the fire.

He's now a professor at a college in Texas, and considered an expert on dioxin.

He's still concerned about small levels of dioxin in hidden areas of the building.

Schecter says his concern is in the air ducts, elevator shafts, below the floors and above the ceilings.

While the state spent tens of millions of dollars in cleanup, he says there will always be some residuals of the toxic chemicals PCB's and dioxin.

Schecter says there is no acceptable level of dioxin, and he thinks the building should have been torn right down.

"It's safe. We tested for three and a half years. I mean, we can go on forever, but there has to be a resolution," said state office building Superintendent Joe Laughney.

Dioxin exposure can lead to serious side effects, like cancer and nerve damage, but there's no evidence it's caused any health issues since the building re-opened.

Teams of independent scientists and state health department inspectors tested the building every six months for three and a half years after the building re-opened in 1994.

Everything checked out okay.

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