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State: Fire zone dioxin test not essential

ALBANY -- Even though the state is billing TCI of New York LLC for the costs of sampling and testing the environment around its burned-out transformer recycling factory in upstate Columbia County, public safety officials have no plans to take full advantage by exploring whether dioxin was created in the chemical-fueled inferno.

Only Massachusetts authorities called for dioxin testing to be done, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. So only the western border of the Bay State, in Berkshire County, was checked, and analysis of air samples there showed routine levels of the highly toxic compound, EPA officials said.

"The state of Massachusetts asked EPA's regional office to sample for PCBs and dioxin," said Mary Mears, an EPA spokeswoman. "All showed rural background numbers." She said New York officials asked only for PCB testing and did not take the extra step of requesting a dioxin screening. "Massachusetts did that more as a precautionary measure," she said.

Despite lingering concerns among residents near the fire in Columbia County, officials with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health said dioxin testing in TCI's home state is considered superfluous since PCB samples showed low or no levels of the suspected carcinogen.

The TCI site is described by the EPA as a hazardous materials recycling facility that specializes in dealing with high concentration (more than 500 parts per million) PCB-containing oils. Various waste oils -- some containing PCBs -- were at the facility during the overnight fire that billowed black smoke for many hours Aug. 1-2. The burning of PCBs can create highly toxic compounds, such as dibenzofurans and dioxin.

"Because all of the tests determined that PCBs and other contaminants are not present or present at low levels, no testing for dioxins or furans is necessary," said Charsleissa King, a DEC spokeswoman.

She said the fire probably consumed mostly petroleum-based oil and whatever was consumed by the flames probably had no more than low amounts of PCBs, as confirmed by the absence of detectable levels of PCBs in 32 soot-wipe samples collected near the fire and in the surrounding community.

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