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|Jim Little||April 18th 2015|
In the community's must-do file, add an urgent cautionary note for the Huron campus worksite in Endicott that sits atop a toxic pool of trichloroethylene. About 1,500 people work at the former IBM site where the ground and water table is contaminated with the chemical that IBM used in its manufacturing operations. TCE vapors have been detected in the buildings at the property that IBM sold in 2002 to Huron Real Estate Associates. BAE Systems Electronics, i3 Electronics (formerly Endicott Interconnect), Binghamton University and other smaller firms have operations on the property. An expert on TCE contamination recently told a workers and residents meeting in Endicott that employees at the location ought to be getting more information about the TCE vapor testing and the chemical's concentration levels in the indoor air. State and federal regulations have weak provisions mandating notification to workers when TCE is detected in workplaces. Workers ought to know whether the air they inhale at work carries TCE vapors and what the concentration is. Of particular concern in Endicott and at other spill sites across the country is that TCE exposure is now associated with birth defects for women exposed to it for short periods of time over days or weeks. TCE exposure has previously been linked to several serious human diseases. In 2011, the federal Environmental Protection Agency determined the chemical was a carcinogen.
The problem with TCE wafting into workplaces in Endicott may continue for years. Earlier this month in reporting on an in-depth look on the 35-year-old cleanup, writer Tom Wilber found there is no remedy for draining the pool of solvents from under the manufacturing site. Wilber learned from Alex Czuhanich, an engineering geologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, it may take years before a proven remedy is found. That leaves the workers in those buildings facing years of additional exposure. Meanwhile, the known risks from the TCE vapors at concentrations measured in a few micrograms per cubic meter of air is uncertain. The state Health Department determined after a 2005 study that the TCE levels at the Huron campus present a "low" health risk to people working there. That decision remains "under review" as more information comes to light, said Health Department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond. Such reassurances provide little comfort to those working in those buildings and even smaller comfort to pregnant workers whose unborn children may be especially vulnerable to health problems from TCE exposure.