Planet Waves | PCB Photo Tour of SUNY New Paltz in 1991-1992, page two



Dr. Peter Haughton was the New Paltz campus physician at the time of the PCB disaster. This was his reaction during the first news conference held the day after the explosions and fires, Dec. 30, 1992. He later joined the chorus of voices reassuring students, parents and faculty of the safety of the campus and buildings. Nine years later, this photo says it all.


We left the news conference when it ended and went exploring. This mystery turned out to be the "staging area" outside Gage Hall, from where emergency crews ran their search & rescue and other emergency operations, and where students and other exposure victimes had their clothing and jewelry taken from them the day before. They were then shuttled to area hospitals in ambulances wrapped in blankets; there were not enough ambulances in the region to take everyone at once. Doctors told them to go home and shower with soap; there was nothing that could be done for them. The photo below is about 200 feet from the stagine area, though about three weeks later.


Some weeks later, we watched as workers began the process of undong the damage. Here, haz-mat men in level B work outside Gage Residence Hall, which college officials informed parents would be closed in the spring semester of 1992. That seemed obvious enough. But at the last minute, the 370 students were given the go-ahead to move back into the building. Thus began what in the lingo of the cleanup became known as the "Gage-type scenario," in which students were allowed to live in a building either while cleanup workers did their jobs, or with decontamination taking place during vacations. A barrier fence was put up between the street and the clean-up project, but students could watch from their rooms. Gary Pinsky-Adamson said he would give coffee to haz-mat workers out his window in Gage Hall, which was opened just 33 days after an explosion sent smoke flooding through the building. In the words of firefighter Patrick Koch, one of four volunteer firefighters to enter the building, "All you saw was smoke."

Over the next three years, I would work through Woodstock Times, with the help of a gadfly state official inside the Department of Environmental Conservation named Ward Stone, and with the direct help of the Governor's office, to establish that the vents in Gage Hall had never been cleaned, had never been tested, and were in fact contaminated. In the summer of 1994, the state performed an "arm's length cleanup" of the vents and moved students back into the building, once again reassuring them of its safety. Thus, the Gage cleanup went on for three years with students living in the structure. Today 370 students live there. No tests have ever been run on heaters or heating conduits, and the vents remain contaminated just 24 inches inside the grates.

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