Bob Joseph/WNBF News
Bob Joseph/WNBF News

History was made at Binghamton's tallest building 34 years ago February 5.

A transformer fire in a mechanical room of the State Office Building caused coolant containing PCB's to burn. The blaze created dangerous chemicals, including dioxin. The toxic soot spread throughout the 18-story structure.

Most interior surfaces of the building were coated with the soot. Health concerns resulted in the building being closed for more than a decade.

Hundreds of employees were allowed back in the building after the fire to retrieve belongings. That resulted in an expensive health surveillance program for nearly 500 people, including firefighters, who may have been exposed to the potentially-hazardous chemicals.

The cleanup and remediation work associated with the fire cost an estimated $53 million. That dwarfed the $17 million dollar cost to build the tower about ten years earlier.

A few weeks after the fire, Governor Hugh Carey made it clear he thought the safety concerns of state employee unions were "overblown."

Carey astonished Albany reporters by offering to enter the Binghamton building and "swallow an entire glass of PCB's." He said he would "then run a mile afterwards." Carey never made good on that offer.

The tower was fully reopened in October 1994 - almost 5,000 days after the February 1981 blaze.

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