Dioxin Dorms: Why I Can’t Give Up On New Paltz
Eric Francis Coppolino
19th June, 2009
When PCB transformers exploded in a New York university in 1991, contaminating the campus with dioxins, it set Eric Francis Coppolino on the path to becoming an environmental journalist.
Joe Ramos, interim dean of fine and performing arts at the state college in New Paltz, New York, hung up on me – terminated the call, as he politely put it – just before replacing the handset. A relatively new arrival, he had never heard that Parker Theater, where his students study and perform, was contaminated with PCBs and dioxins after a transformer explosion in December 1991.
This gives an idea of how quiet it’s kept on campus, how taboo a subject it is. So, I explained to him the history of the incident. I described the theatre, wrapped in plastic sheeting for weeks after the explosion so that rainwater would not spread the toxins further into the environment. I described the pipes freezing and bursting in January 1992 during the early phase of the cleanup, and the hundreds of toxic waste barrels that were used to collect the contaminated water.
I told him I didn’t know whether the theatre’s costume collection had been thrown out after the building fogged over with dioxin and furan-laced smoke, or whether students were still performing in clothing that could never be cleaned and only be tested by being destroyed. I explained how PCB smoke works its way into crawl spaces,...
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