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Activists call on Gov. Hochul to intercede in battle over Norlite plant in Cohoes

"Lights out Norlite" activist Alexis Goldsmith led the chant before a crowd of about 100 gathered at the mansion gates.
Dave Lucas
"Lights out Norlite" activist Alexis Goldsmith led the chant before a crowd of about 100 gathered at the mansion gates.

Activists rallied Saturday outside the governor’s mansion in Albany to demand the shutdown of the Norlite plant in Cohoes.

"Lights out Norlite" activist Alexis Goldsmith led the chant before a crowd of about 100 gathered at the mansion gates.

"We're calling on Governor Hochul to show strong leadership and shut Norlite down," Goldsmith said. "To direct the DEC to deny their permit renewals. Stop the burning and stop the pollution, right away."

Goldsmith says 33 organizations co-sponsored the rally. They claim Norlite has been generating hazardous waste and toxic dust near the Saratoga Sites public housing complex, threatening residents' health, for decades.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has threatened to shut Norlite down if it does not address air quality violations related to blowing dust.

A statement from a Norlite spokesman says the facility has “no reason to believe our operation poses a risk to the community. We recognize that some concerns have been raised about dust, and we are making operational and engineering changes to address those concerns.”

Former Albany County legislator Doug Bullock says dealing with environmental issues in the Capital Region has been nothing short of challenging.

“I don't think we've come very far. Because they've been able to resist that Clean Air Act pretty good," said Bullock. "And so far the state doesn't want to budge on it. So, you know, we've got to have clean air.”

DEC says it "continues to strictly oversee the Norlite facility’s operations," noting that the company has been complying with its requests.

Alÿcia Bacon of Albany with Mothers Out Front Capital Region suffers from asthma. She turned out in solidarity with those living in Norlite’s shadow.

“I'm here to speak out and hopefully get this plant shut down, because it's polluting the air," Bacon said. "Most impacted is Cohoes. But once particles get in the air, they go everywhere. I just want to reiterate how important it is that New York transition to renewable energy and to meet the draft scoping plan put out by the CAC. And so we need to prioritize people's lives in order to make this just transition possible.”

In 2020 it was disclosed that Norlite had incinerated toxic firefighting foam in secret for two years, leading to intense public concern over PFAS pollution. The activists say the DEC has allowed Norlite to continue to operate despite a near-continuous string of violations and pollution dating back to at least 1990; the most recent Notice of Violation occurred on March 9th, 2022 for dust emissions.

Activists say respiratory cancers have been linked to dust emanating from the embattled Norlite plant in Cohoes. The company disputes the claims, while Democratic Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler says more study is needed.

“I'm aware of the recent developments in the protests and stuff, but my confidence remains with the folks at the DEC that they will ultimately come to the right decision and do the right thing," Keeler said. "Along with the, you know, the attorney general's office. We've got the best government attorneys and the best government scientists working on behalf of the City of Cohoes. So I'm satisfied with that for now.”

The Saratoga Sites apartments are likely to be demolished due to Norlite’s pollution, displacing 70 households.

Hochul's office did not respond to requests for comment.

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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