Riverkeeper monitors runoff into Saw Mill River in Yonkers

T.C. Dunham Paint Co., located at 581 Saw

T.C. Dunham Paint Co., located at 581 Saw Mill River Rd. in Yonkers, is in ruins after a fire caused extensive damage to the paint warehouse Wednesday night. (May 17, 2012) (Credit: Susan Stava)

An environmental watchdog organization is monitoring chemical runoff from a late-night Yonkers warehouse fire that dumped pollutants into the Saw Mill River and the Hudson.

The blaze, which began just after 10 p.m. Wednesday at T.C. Dunham Paint Co., 581 Saw Mill River Rd., destroyed the facility, which manufactures paint and architectural coatings.

Riverkeeper, a watchdog group that focuses on the Hudson and its tributaries, is keeping a close watch on the impact of the runoff on fish and other animals, said Rob Friedman, program staffer for the organization. The Saw Mill River, directly behind T.C. Dunham, runs 20 miles from Chappaqua to the Hudson River.

"The water-solubility is definitely an issue. There's not a whole lot that can be done for that sort of thing," Friedman said.

The fire's 50-foot-high flames consumed the facility within 15 minutes, said Yonkers Fire Commissioner George Kielb. Paint stored inside the plant intensified the blaze. Though firefighters tried to contain runoff, booms were ineffective because the paint is water-soluble, Kielb said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is helping with the cleanup.

"It appears there are no elevated levels of any volatile organics or any kind of issues related to pH outside of normal range," said DEC spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach. Changes in pH levels can result in fish kills.

The paint will wash out or go to the bottom of the river, Friedman said.

"It's unfortunate that this facility is so close to the Saw Mill River, and it's unfortunate that the contents go right into the river. The Saw Mill has seen the brunt of industrial development for a long time," Friedman said.

Scorecard, a pollution information website that analyzes the environmental safety of U.S. companies based on EPA data, ranked T.C. Dunham among the top 10 percent of the cleanest companies in the nation in 2009, the most recent data available.

The fire burned all night, Yonkers Fire Department Assistant Chief Paul Vasely told News 12 Westchester.

"It was tough, very stubborn."

The cause of the blaze is being investigated.

"Right now there is no indication that it could be suspicious, but it is not ruled out,'' Kielb said.

With their office destroyed, employees of T.C. Dunham were working out of a temporary location Thursday.

"I got woken up last night about it," said Ely Fisch, the paint company's general manager. "They told me I should come down."

Fisch said his company produces interior and exterior paints, lacquers and architectural paints, but declined to answer more questions about T.C. Dunham.

Messages were left with Isaac Schwartz, the company's owner.

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