thence throughout the building. The BSOB was now contaminated with the toxin-laden soot. Closed file cabinets, locked desk drawers, even the spaces between each floor, used as plena for normal air circulation, were contaminated. In addition to PCBs, the contaminants contained furans and dioxins. The BSOB would not reopen for 13 years. The building had cost $17 million to build and about $50 million to decontaminate.
The Binghamton case was marked by several risk communication problems. State officials immediately began a cleanup effort, but they used relatively untrained building maintenance workers for the effort. The two local papers soon ran stories of cleanup workers wearing protective suits into nearby uncontaminated buildings to change clothes or use the restroom. The cleanup was poorly supervised; some cleanup workers stole contaminated cash and lottery tickets, and some consumed food and smoked cigarettes in the BSOB. Entrances to the building were not tightly controlled, so nearly 500 people were exposed to the toxins by the time state officials truly closed the building, three weeks after the fire.
In the interim, Governor Hugh Carey offered “here and now to walk into Binghamton, to any part of that building, and swallow an entire glass of PCB and then run a mile afterwards…I’d like to meet that local health officer who put that building in that…If I had a couple of willing hands and a few vacuum cleaners I’d clean that building myself…” Similar problems would characterize a medical surveillance program of those exposed in Binghamton. It also appeared to Binghamton residents that the state was not taking their concerns seriously. The day after the fire, the state health commissioner flew to Binghamton to survey the situation, held a press conference, put other people in charge, and returned to Albany.
State officials had incited distrust among Binghamton’s citizens, the media, the county medical society, the Binghamton city council, the Broome County Health Department, and unions by belittling possible dangers and pursuing courses of action that were not conservative with respect to the technical science or to risk communication.
From March 1943 to July 1972 there were several anthrax accidents at the U.S. Army’s Biological Laboratories at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The laboratories’ mission was to conduct offensive and defensive research with highly pathogenic agents or their toxins. Initially, safety procedures, vaccines, medical treatment regimens, antibiotics, and containment facilities were limited, and there were many unknown operational elements and unrecognized risks to employees (military and civilian). The at-risk population in the laboratories was about 1500-1700 people.
According to accounts made available to the committee, the decontamina-