All-clear for N.Y. fire that tainted air in Berkshires

Friday August 3, 2012

The Massachusetts Emergency Man agement Agency gave the all-clear to Southern Berkshire County at 5 p.m. on Thursday, after people there had been warned to stay inside because of a smoke plume from a fire in New York state.

The fire engulfed a transformer recycling company in New York's Hudson Valley late Wednesday into Thursday, spewing noxious fumes that traveled eastward over Southern Berkshire County.

In New York, the Columbia County Emergency Management Office had already lifted its advisory, telling residents they may resume normal activities. Officials in New York said tests of soot from the fire show no evidence of PCB contamination. Tests results for dioxin, a potential byproduct of the burning, are expected by today.

Officials at the scene of the fire in West Ghent, N.Y., along with Massachusetts authorities, confirmed the fire was 99 percent out around 2 p.m. Thursday.

Officials had advised people, especially those with respiratory problems, in Southern Berkshire County, east and south of Alford and Great Barrington, to remain indoors as a precaution until officials gave the OK. West Ghent is located about 10 miles west of the New York state border along Southern Berkshire County.

The Massachusetts National Guard Civil Support Team, whose members donned protective suits, fanned out in parts of Southern Berkshire County to test soil and air. Final results are expected early today, but officials monitoring the situation from a command post in West Stockbridge received word from MEMA that early results showed no serious threat.

According to Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski, samples were taken in the towns of Richmond, West Stockbridge, Alford, Egremont, Mount Wash ington, and Great Bar rington. Towns directly in the path of the plume of smoke from the fire, he added, were Egremont, Mount Washington and a "small part" of Sheffield.

Czerwinski said the testing was a precautionary measure and there is no need for alarm, and that people with respiratory issues were most vulnerable to feeling affects from any airborne materials.

"Anyone of average health would probably have to breathe large quantities for years before they'd be bothered by this stuff," he said.

A Great Barrington emergency management team issued reverse 9-1-1 telephone calls around 5 a.m. on Thursday to alert residents about the fire and the prospect that fumes may drift toward Southern Berkshire County.

Some businesses decided to close out of concern for the air quality. The Price Chopper in Great Barrington was closed until the air-quality advisory was lifted. The West Stockbridge farmers market also closed for the day, according to Bob Tibo, who runs the market.

Jody Kordana, a resident of Ghent, N.Y. who works at PCTV in Pittsfield, said she did not notice anything amiss when she left for work Thursday morning.

"We had the windows open all night and it was fine," she said. "It wasn't until I got to Pittsfield that I heard about all these alerts."

Kordana called a neighbor to close the windows of her house. When she got home from work, there was no noticeable effect from the smoke.

"There were fluffy white clouds and blue sky everywhere I looked," she said.

The Berkshire County Emer gency Response Team met at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in West Stockbridge, along with agencies such as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and members of the Berkshire County hazardous materials team.

In West Ghent, the fire broke out around 10:15 p.m. Wed nesday at TCI of New York. The cause remains under investigation. TCI is located in a small industrial park amid the rural countryside 25 miles south of Albany.

Firefighters at the scene last night described a series of explosions and a fireball rising hundreds of feet into the sky.

TCI disposes of electrical equipment containing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. PCBs were once used as coolants in electrical equipment and are a suspected carcinogen.

Forty homes were evacuated within a one-mile radius of the plant.

Eagle writers Jenn Smith, Clarence Fanto, Ben Garver, Scott Stafford and Kevin Moran contributed to this report. Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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