1991 PCB Incident: 14 Years Later
On Dec. 29, 1991, a power "spike" resulting
from an off-campus traffic accident seriously damaged
electrical transformers in five buildings on campus. The oil
in the transformers contained polychlorinated biphenyls, or
PCBs. Some of the oil spilled directly onto the floors of the
transformer vaults and limited amounts spread through the
buildings as smoke or vapor.
Under the direction of the county and state health
departments, the university began a massive, thorough clean-up
effort in the five buildings: Bliss, Gage and Scudder
residence halls, Parker Theatre and Coykendall Science
Building. As an additional precaution, 29 other buildings were
thoroughly tested and, if necessary, cleaned.
The cleanup, led by the Ulster County Department of Health,
also included the New York State Department of Health, Office
of General Services, Department of Environmental Conservation,
State University's Construction Fund and the Dormitory
Authority. Six separate laboratories were involved in testing
and re-testing campus buildings.
The latest test were initiated by the campus and completed
in March 2005. The tests were performed by and evaluated by
the New York State Department of Health. Air sample results
from the recent testing, as well as those from previous tests
in 1997, 1998 and 2001, are well below the air criterion
established for the post-incident clean up. Wipe samples from
the recent tests were also well below the surface criterion
established for the post-incident clean up with one exception.
Wipe samples taken from the east wall in the Parker Theatre
transformer vault slightly exceeded the acceptable level for
post-incident clean-up of 1 micrograms per 100 square
centimeters. This surface wipe criterion is 10 times more
stringent than the Federal EPA criterion of 10 micrograms per
100 square centimeters. Three of the eight samples collected
in the Parker Theatre transformer vault that exceeded
criterion ranged from 1.11 to 1.33 micrograms per 100 square
centimeter - still well below the EPA criterion. Moreover, no
PCBs were detected in the air sample from the Parker Theatre
vault, and no direct contact is anticipated since the
encapsulated surface is located in the former vault room with
restricted access protected by a locked door.
Based upon the State and Ulster County Health Departments'
recommendation, the college has reapplied an encapsulant to
all surfaces of the Parker Theatre transformer vault
As the safety of our students and employees are our primary
concern, the college will continue its routine monitoring and
inspection program with special attention to the Parker
Theatre vault. If any safety issues arise during the future
monitoring or testing of any of these encapsulated areas, the
college will notify the campus community.
If you have additional questions, you may contact Brian
Colandrea, Director of Environmental Health and Safety at SUNY
New Paltz at x2385. In addition, testing results are available
in the Sojourner Truth Library on the SUNY New Paltz campus.
SUNY New Paltz Today:
- There is no danger of another PCB accident at New Paltz
- There have been no PCB transformers or fixtures at New
Paltz since 1995. In August 1994, SUNY New Paltz became
the first SUNY campus to be 100 percent PCB
- Testing following the incident, including the latest
testing in 2005, has been thorough. Examples of areas
tested include: ventilation system duct work, sinks,
walls, furniture, floors, backs of heaters, transformer
vaults, hallways and file cabinet interiors. To date, more
than 12,000 swipe and air samples have been taken and
- There is a uniquely low risk of any PCB contamination at
New Paltz today.
- New Paltz is probably unique because the extensive
cleaning and testing program following the incident
identified and cleaned many of the PCBs that would be
found in almost all modern buildings constructed before
the chemicals were banned in 1976. The program covered the
five buildings primarily affected and 29 other buildings
on campus. The criteria used to clean the surfaces in
buildings were 10 times more stringent than Federal EPA
- Until 1976, PCBs were widely used in roofing materials,
fluorescent light ballasts, glue, carbonless paper,
transformers and capacitors. PCBs are found in low levels in
most buildings today.