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Activists press New York state DEC to rein in Norlite

Dave Lucas
Activists delivered a birthday cake to DEC to highlight that Norlite’s Title V air toxics and hazardous waste permits expired December 31, 2020.

Community activists gathered Friday in front of state Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters in Albany in the latest flap over the Norlite plant in Cohoes.

Advocates led by the group "Lights Out Norlite" want the DEC to clamp down on the Cohoes facility, which they say continues to burn toxins while operating under expired permits.

Joe Ritchie grew up in the adjacent Saratoga Sites public housing complex. He says DEC needs to look into how fly ash from Norlite’s hazardous waste incinerator in Cohoes is handled. The ash is mixed to the aggregate product Norlite sells to the construction industry.

"We're calling on the DEC to really look at these permits, probably to deny them, because we do not want this amendment to be in there," Ritchie said. "And we don't want them to be incinerating this, this stuff 100 feet away from where people are living. I mean, it's gotten so bad at Saratoga Sites that the Cohoes Housing Authority is moving residents out because of the dangers of this facility. What does that say? This facility has had years and years of damage. And we're trying to put this to a rest."

The activists say DEC is allowing Norlite’s delay in submitting a complete renewal application as an excuse not to enforce new rules that ended an exemption allowing Norlite to avoid handling fly ash as a hazardous material.

Democratic state Assemblyman John McDonald, a former Cohoes mayor, says he has been working on the permit issue with DEC and Mayor Bill Keeler.

"DEC has made it very clear that if the permit is renewed, Norlite will not be able to continue their past practices at the Norlite facility in regards to their ash material, and their baghouse dust material, which we believe has been contributing to many of the concerns that have been expressed by the residents at Saratoga Sites," McDonald said. "So I want to thank DEC for already foreshadowing, that this activity has to stop and has to change. And to that point, I am sending a letter today to Norlite, not to DEC, but to Norlite to ask them to be proactive, to think about being the good neighbor that they pretend to be, that they profess to be, and to take actions now to change their operations for the benefit of the residents of the city of Cohoes."

"Lights Out Norlite" says it obtained a letter in which DEC states it will continue to allow Norlite to mix the toxic ash with the aggregate product it sells to the construction industry.

NYSDEC Regional Director Anthony Luisi responded to a request for comment.

"DEC shares serious concerns about conditions at this facility, and it is our top priority to hold Norlite accountable for its impact on the surrounding communities, including frontline environmental justice neighborhoods," said Luisi. "DEC is actively reviewing the use and management of baghouse dust at Norlite to determine if the facility is in compliance with all applicable requirements, which were recently strengthened by DEC to ensure the most stringent protections are in place to safeguard public health and the environment. This is just one of the many ongoing actions DEC is undertaking to safeguard the Cohoes community while we work with the Office of Attorney General to ensure that this facility addresses ongoing violations and any unauthorized activities that harm the environment and communities."

The activists delivered a birthday cake to DEC to highlight that Norlite’s Title V air toxics and hazardous waste permits expired December 31, 2020.

Norlite issued its own statement, saying it "has been and continues to work diligently through the permit renewal process in cooperation with all of DEC’s requests. Norlite appreciates DEC’s thorough review of the information we have submitted thus far, and we look forward to further discussions on the information we continue to assemble and provide in response to DEC’s ongoing review.”

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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