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Lights Out Norlite activists have new complaint about pollution from embattled Cohoes plant

Top: the road to Norlite  Bottom: the road along Saratoga Sites
Jackie Orchard
/
WAMC

Activists say the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation is allowing the Norlite plant in Cohoes to continue operating despite violations of cease-and-desist orders.

Issues related to the incineration of hazardous materials at the Norlite facility in Cohoes and its impact on residents of the nearby Saratoga Sites public housing complex have activists calling on the DEC to deny the renewal of Norlite's air toxics and hazardous waste permits.

Former EPA Administrator and WAMC commentator Judith Enck:

"So in-mid February, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation took the significant step of issuing a cease and desist order against the Norlite hazardous waste incinerator in Cohoes," said Enck. "The DEC said that if the company continued to have a problem with toxic dust leaving the property and affecting local residents, that the DEC would in fact, consider shutting them down. Here we are, over 60 days past the DEC deadline, and they have not taken steps to protect public health."

Enck and other activists cite a March WAMC interview in which DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said he had initiated a second notice of violation.

"Well they still risk shutdown. We have a notice of violation against Norlite," Seggos said. "We had issued one about a month ago and then another one in the last I believe two weeks was the last one we put out there. This is in regards to the dust blowing off of their fairly large dust piles into the community. And I have both received input from the community as well as corroborated with my own staff that the dust continues to be a problem in the area. So we're taking that very seriously. We're, you know as I made clear with my staff, we're going to ensure that, you know, we're looking at this problem as it as it evolves. Use the full force of the law, well aligned with the Attorney General's Office on this, they're representing us. And we're prepared to take any action necessary to stop this problem."

Joe Ritchie of Saratoga Sites Against Norlite Emissions says the DEC did not inform the public about the second notice of violation.

"If the commissioner was very serious about environmental justice, advocacy and work, he would not allow 70 residents to be moved out of there because of Norlite, he would try to work with the housing authority to keep them there," said Ritchie. "And yes, I advocated for those residents to leave. But at the end of the day, it still sucks that Saratoga Sites residents will be forced to move out, if granted approval by HUD. And, you know, if they're granted the approval, which is likely they'll be moved in and Norlite will stay. And it's a shame."

Ritchie calls it a "classic example of environmental discrimination" and says there are also private homeowners living across the street from Saratoga Sites.

"My exact concern is that once the residents are moved out, Norlite will not be treated with as much scrutiny. And of course, if you ask them, they'll say that's not true," said Ritchie.

Norlite emailed WAMC a statement in response, which says in part:

"Norlite is working in good faith to make operational and engineering changes to address concerns about dust... We are monitoring weather and wind speeds closely. Our materials and byproducts are tested regularly for compliance with health and environmental standards, and we do not believe they pose a health hazard. Protection of the health and wellbeing of our community and our employees remains our top priority."

DEC also emailed a response, which says in part:

"As directed by DEC, Norlite submitted to DEC a proposal to achieve zero fugitive dust emissions. The proposal is subject to technical review by DEC professionals as part of DEC’s ongoing pending enforcement procedures... Operations at the facility must continue to meet all applicable permit conditions, and violations will result in appropriate actions."

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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