Four decades have passed since a transformer fire spread PCB's and dioxins throughout Binghamton's tallest building, closing the State Office Building for nearly 14 years.

The blaze in the basement of the 18-story structure erupted just before 5:30 on the morning of February 5, 1981. Dioxins formed when the PCB-laced coolant in the electrical equipment burned.

Sticky, toxic soot covered every surface inside the building, which had opened only eight years earlier.

Photo: Bob Joseph/WNBF News
The Binghamton State Office Building on February 5, 2021. (Photo: Bob Joseph/WNBF News)

At first, state and local officials believed the place could be cleaned up and reopened within a few days. That was before the challenges of decontaminating the structure were fully assessed.

A few weeks after the fire, Governor Hugh Carey downplayed the indoor environmental disaster. He shocked reporters at an Albany news conference when he said: "I offer here and now to walk into Binghamton in any part of that building and swallow an entire glass of PCBs and run a mile afterward."

Carey never drank a glass of PCBs but he did express regret about the quip that angered some Binghamton residents and state employees.

The tower - which cost $17 million to construct - finally reopened nearly 5,000 days after the fire. The final cost to taxpayers was reported to be at least $53 million.

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