Planet Waves

Contact: Chelsea Bottinelli (877) 453-8265
or Eric Francis Coppolino (206) 463-7827
News Conference 2:30 pm on Wednesday, March 3, 2004
SUNY New Paltz Service Building

New Independent Tests Reveal PCB Contamination in New Paltz Dormitories

NEW PALTZ, March 1 -- Ten years after independent testing revealed high levels of PCB contamination in an occupied dormitory previously certified clean, new, independent tests reveal widespread contamination in the same building and an adjoining one.

The samples were taken by Eric Francis Coppolino of Planet Waves, Inc. in cooperation with Chronogram magazine and The Oracle student newspaper. They were analyzed at an independent laboratory, and reveal high levels of contamination in the same Gage Residence Hall ventilation duct that caused state officials to close that building and do extensive testing and cleaning of the structure in the summer of 1994. This duct is above a stove in a student lounge. The vent opening, which originally showed levels of 100 parts per million and was subsequently cleaned, produced 80 parts per million in a sample taken Feb. 12.

Three hundred seventy students currently live in the building under assurances that the structure is safe, and have since the building was first reoccupied in February 1992, just one month after a PCB transformer exploded there.

Gage and Capen residence halls at SUNY New Paltz were originally contaminated in 1991 after a car accident damaged the campus power system, causing seven transformers to malfunction, burn or explode. Gage and Capen were opened a month after the incident. But a $50 million cleanup of the campus was largely devoted to four other buildings, one of which took six years to renovate and the last section of which was finally opened just last month.

PCBs are associated with a wide variety of health effects, including damage to the endocrine (hormone) and immune systems at low levels of exposure. Many of the effects are multigenerational, and can include genetic damage. In addition, PCBs are known to have reproductive effects, damaging both fetuses and the reproductive organs. They are considered by the federal government to be "dioxin-like compounds" and are human carcinogens.

PCBs, once ingested, never leave the body. Each new dose adds to what is already there. While safety guidelines, also called cleanup criteria, used by the state are based on the idea that there is a certain level of PCB contamination to which students can be exposed, the notion of a safe level has come under fire based on studies that reveal lower and lower levels are dangerous. Most scientists agree there is no known safe level of exposure.

Research over the past 20 years reveals that PCBs and related compounds are far more toxic than previously believed, documenting many subtle effects not considered when New York State's antiquated safety guidelines were written in the early 1980s.

Contamination in Seven of Seven Samples

While state studies show that the dormitories are free from PCBs, all seven samples taken on Feb. 12 revealed the presence of contamination. In addition to revealing contamination in an exhaust ventilation duct, analysis of the samples revealed the presence of PCB contamination in a Gage Hall radiator, a crawl space and a ceiling tile in a student lounge.

Samples taken from adjoining Capen Residence Hall reveal PCB contamination has spread into the heating system, the ventilation system and the electrical system. Neither the heat nor the vents were sampled prior to Capen Hall being certified safe and reoccupied in February 1992.

One hundred ninety students currently live in Capen Hall, and have since the building was reoccupied.

While nearby Bliss and Scudder residence halls were subjected to extensive analysis and cleaning by state health officials prior to being reoccupied, Capen and Gage halls were opened in early 1992 with little more than surface tests and what is called an "industrial cleaning" that largely consisted of mopping the floors with Tide detergent. Bliss and Scudder were not included in this round of independent tests.

After opening Capen and Gage residence halls in February 1992 amid questions about safety by parents and student journalists, state officials argued that tests to see whether PCBs were in the exhaust ventilation systems were not necessary for a variety of reasons. These reasons later turned out to be invalid because the toxins were actually found.

The first independent sample, taken in late 1993 by Coppolino, then a writer for Woodstock Times, and analyzed by Dr. Ward Stone of the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), demonstrated high levels of contamination in a ventilation duct above a stove in a student lounge. That test showed PCBs at a level of 100 parts per million, or 100,000 parts per billion. After initially denying that the results were significant, the state secretly tested the entire Gage Hall ventilation system, discovering that every branch and nearly every duct in the system was contaminated.

State officials then cleaned the vents to what they called the "arm's length" before immediately reoccupying the structure. Promises of a complete cleanup of the ventilation system the following winter break were never fulfilled.

Capen vents were never tested after contamination was found in the Gage vents, despite the fact that vents in nearly identical Bliss and Scudder halls were also contaminated and cleaned by the state.

The Feb. 12 sample from the same Gage Hall vent opening, largely composed of dust that had accumulated in the vent over the past decade, revealed contamination at the level of 80 parts per million (80,000 parts per billion), the highest reading of the seven samples taken in this round of independent tests. This vent opening had been cleaned by state contractors and certified PCB-free as part of the 1994 "arm's length cleanup."

Samples taken from exhaust vents are significant because such vents collect a composite of dust in the building over long periods of time. In other words, vent contamination is not necessarily confined to the vents, but suggests the existence of a much more extensive problem. Yet this test also reveals the potential that contamination is moving from deeper inside the vents -- in areas that were never cleaned -- into the building.

A ceiling tile in the same room, a basement lounge, contained PCBs at a level of 7.6 parts per million (7,600 parts per billion). Sediment in a crawl space contained 2.7 parts per million (2,700 parts per billion) and dust in a radiator contained 0.93 parts per million (930 parts per billion).

The most recent available state-sponsored samples of Gage Hall all show non-detectable levels of contamination, which is the primary basis of the claim of the buildings' safety.

In Capen Hall, analysis of samples revealed an equally widespread problem. A ventilation duct above a dryer in a laundry room produced dust contaminated with PCBs at a level of 22.6 parts per million (22,600 parts per billion). This is the first time in the history of the PCB contamination incident that a ventilation duct in Capen Residence Hall has been sampled and analyzed.

A radiator located far from the scene of the transformer malfunction produced dust contaminated with PCBs at the level of 9.7 parts per million (9,700 parts per billion), raising the possibility that radiators and heat pipes throughout the building are contaminated. And a wipe sample in an electrical area next to a student room produced 1.4 micrograms of PCBs, suggesting that PCBs move through the electrical conduits.

This was found to be the case years earlier in both Bliss and Scudder halls, though the situation was never addressed in Capen and Gage.

The Planet Waves samples were analyzed by Sequoia Analytical Laboratories of Sacramento, CA, using the latest analytical methods available. The full results may be obtained by calling Chelsea Bottinelli at (877) 453-8265 during Pacific business hours, or by emailing her at They can also be obtained from [and are online at].

Planet Waves, Inc. is a Washington State-based publishing company that was started by Coppolino, a longtime resident of the Hudson Valley and writer for Chronogram magazine in New Paltz.

Coppolino has written hundreds of articles about PCBs and dioxins which have been published in Sierra, the Village Voice, the Las Vegas Sun and numerous other media. His award-winning work on this subject has received the repeated acclaim of The New York Times. ++

For more information about the 1994 vent cleanup in Gage Hall, please see

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