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Answers Sought in Fire Warehouse Blaze

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

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Authorities are still pursuing clues and clean-up in a massive blaze that gutted a paint and coating warehouse and sent products flowing into a river last week in Yonkers, NY.

Investigators still have no cause in the fire at the headquarters of T.C. Dunham Paint Co. The blaze broke out about 10:20 p.m. May 16 and burned on and off, with minor explosions and rekindling, for nearly 24 hours, Yonkers Deputy Chief John Flynn said in an interview Wednesday (May 23).

 Officials are seeking witnesses to the blaze, which took nearly 24 hours to fully control.
Officials are seeking witnesses to the blaze, which took nearly 24 hours to fully control.

Fifty-eight firefighters responded to the three-alarm blaze, limiting it to one unoccupied building that contained the company’s business operations, inventory, packaging and shipping. The manufacturing building at the site was unaffected. Several firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Runoff Taints River

However, fighting the fire required vast amounts of water that caused a “significant amount of runoff” into the Saw Mill River—especially in the first hour, before firefighters felt it safe to slightly reduce the flow, Flynn said.

Responders commandeered a backhoe and built some berms to try to contain the paint runoff that night, but much of the product was water based, and instantly mixed with the river water, Flynn said.

Contrary to initial reports, however, the building also contained lacquers, paint thinners and other paint solvents, which also became part of the runoff.

Chemicals Cited

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are both monitoring the spill.

Sampling of the river has found Volatile Organic Compounds in the water, said DEC spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach.

Acetone, benzene, methylene chloride and toluene were among the chemicals found in the highest concentrations, Rosenbach said.

However, she added, extensive testing at points along the Saw Mill to the Hudson has not yet found evidence of injury or distress to fish or waterfowl. Soil sampling is also underway, and the paint company was ordered to hire a contractor to initiate cleanup.

The runoff does not pose any health risk to people who live in the area, Caren Halbfinger, a spokeswoman for the Westchester County Department of Health, told reporters.

Investigation Underway

Local fire and police are investigating, but the task is not easy, said Flynn. With the building completely gutted and located in a remote industrial area, it will be difficult to establish the area of origin. Officials are now interviewing the owners and seeking witnesses.

“We have no idea whatsoever what happened,” said a longtime employee who asked not to be identified.  “It’s very frightening.”

The fire consumed  all of the company’s records, offices, formulations, labeling and inventory, essentially shutting down the operation indefinitely, said the employee, one of about 30 at the company, which dates back decades.

Said the employee: “We’re trying to survive.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Coatings manufacturers; Methylene chloride; Solvents

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