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Concerns About Norlite Plant Continue Despite New State, City Of Cohoes Restrictions

The Norlite facility in Cohoes, NY.
Jackie Orchard

Activists recently held a Zoom meeting to discuss the ongoing effort to regulate the Norlite incinerator in Cohoes. The commercial hazardous waste-burning operation is in a densely populated urban neighborhood in the Albany County city.

Viewers were given a look into the operation of aggregate kiln incinerators, which activists say are regulated less strongly than other hazardous waste incinerators. Former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck has several concerns about Norlite's Cohoes operation.

"It has not been a good neighbor in Cohoes. And also people need to realize that this air pollution travels long distances beyond the city of Cohoes, it hits Troy, the air pollution hit lots of Rensselaer County, Southern Vermont, Western Massachusetts. This is a regional air pollution threat that really needs health attention, and environmental attention."

Dr. Neil Carman is Clean Air Director of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter.

He worked for more than a decade at the Odessa office of the Texas Air Control Board, conducting more than 200 annual plant inspections and documenting numerous instances of air pollution law violations and advising on compliance plans.

"We stopped a number of the cement kilns in Texas from getting their permits. One thing we did in Texas is we got the state legislature to pass a bill that if you, that you had to be at least a half a mile away from any residence if you didn't have a record Part B permit to burn hazardous waste. So that that killed Lafarge south of Austin and a few others. But, you know, so we were fighting these all over the country and, you know, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Michigan, California, New York.”

In late November, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill banning the burning of aqueous film forming foam containing PFAS chemicals in cities designated Environmental Justice areas. The new law is tailored specifically for Cohoes.

Credit youtube

Like many others who reside at the Saratoga Sites public housing project, Jennifer Malinowski wishes she could move away from under Norlite's shadow. She has a son who suffers from asthma.

"We should not have to live, with everything that you guys are saying, it's just not fair that we have to live here.”

Carman advised Malinowski and other residents to talk to local HUD officials and health experts.

"I think the testing of children's hair could be a very explosive issue. If you show metals in the children's hair that could be coming from Norlite, that's very powerful evidence."

Over the Christmas holiday weekend, activists shared social media photos purportedly showing contaminants that had settled on snow outside Saratoga Sites.

Credit Judith Enck / Twitter
Click on image to enlarge.

Also last week, the Cohoes Common Council passed a local law putting a levy on the income received by Norlite for its treatment and disposal of hazardous waste.

Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler says the law imposes a 4 percent assessment on Norlite’s gross receipts.

"New York State Environmental Conservation law allows a host community to impose an annual assessment of up to 4% on the gross receipts of any commercial Hazardous Waste Facility located in the municipality."

Keeler says the city continues its scrutiny of Norlite's operations after discovering earlier this year that toxic firefighting foam was being burned in its kiln.

"Too many questions about this episode remain unanswered."

The law goes into effect in 2021. Norlite's first payment would be due in March 2022.

Norlite did not comment on the Zoom meeting but in an email addressed the new tax, pointing out that the company has been in Cohoes for 64 years, stating:

“Norlite has been a part of the Cohoes community since 1956. Our 70 employees provide an essential environmental service to our customers and produce a product that makes buildings safer, more environmentally friendly and more energy-efficient. They also live in, serve and support nearby communities. Some are third-generation Norlite employees, and we have made investments to ensure that subsequent generations of their families will continue to have opportunities with our company. We intend to be a contributing part of Cohoes for the long-term. We do believe an assessment would be a transparent and reliable option for the city.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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