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Cohoes, Green Island, Watervliet Residents Sue Norlite

Capital Region residents are suing the Norlite facility in Cohoes and its parent company, alleging hazardous dust is settling in their neighborhoods.

Environmental activist Joe Ritchie was born and raised in what he calls “the shadow of the Norlite plant” in the Saratoga Sites public housing neighborhood in Cohoes, in Albany County. He’s lived there for 20 years, and says he starts each day by leaving the house and walking into a “dust storm.”

20-year-old Environmental activist Joe Ritchie, resident of Saratoga Sites.
Credit Jackie Orchard / WAMC
20-year-old Environmental activist Joe Ritchie, resident of Saratoga Sites.

“My cars are covered with dust daily,” Ritchie said. “I go to people’s houses, their window sills are covered daily, they have to worry about their health daily because of this constant threat that is not going away.”

At a press conference in the Saratoga Sites playground Friday, Ritchie said the class action lawsuit is shaping up to be a David vs. Goliath story.

“This facility has been safe-guarded by the state, by the local governments, and obviously they make a lot of money,” Ritchie said. “So, they have the money to fight. But guess what? The residents of Saratoga Sites, the class representatives of 5,000 people – we’re going to fight.”

Attorney Philip Oswald says the lawsuit is “long overdue.” He says dangerous dust is emitted from the Norlite facility and drifts into surrounding communities. 

“We are further alleging that those emissions contain hazardous particulates, crystalline silica quartz and glass, and we are further alleging that the dust is exposing people to those hazards, putting them at risk, damaging their property, interfering with their right to use and enjoy their property, and various other damages,” Oswald said.

Oswald says his office filed a 42-page complaint against Norlite last week outlining evidence for the lawsuit.

“That evidence includes first-hand observations by many of the residents in these communities, first-hand observations by the DEC, microscopic analysis of the dust particles coming from Norlite, statements by Norlite and Tradebe about the hazardous nature of that dust, statements by Norlite and Tradebe about the propensity of that dust to be carried off site,” Oswald said. 

In a statement Friday, a spokesperson for Norlite’s parent company Tradebe USA said:

“Norlite already is discussing with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation our plans to improve our dust control technology. We will invest the necessary resources to accomplish that goal. A lawsuit is not necessary, but if one is filed, we will respond in court.”

The view of the Norlite facility from the back parking lot of Saratoga Sites.
Credit Jackie Orchard / WAMC
The view of the Norlite facility from the back parking lot of Saratoga Sites in March 2021.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said in a 450-page report earlier this month that there is no clear connection between the Norlite plant and PFAS contamination of the area.

Dr. David Bond is a professor at Bennington College and a scientist who helped prepare the report disputing the findings of the DEC’s study. He says the DEC’s conclusion, that the there is no link between the burning of Aqueous Film Forming Foam, known as AFFF, and PFAS levels in the neighborhood, is not supported by the DEC’s data.

“There are elevated levels of the PFAS compounds associated with AFFF in Saratoga Sites,” Bond said. “DEC masks that conclusion by doing a very curious move on what’s considered a ‘background level.’ So, instead of providing a background level and comparing the levels here to that background level, DEC provides a wide range of results as background. Which masks the fact that PFOS levels are elevated in the vicinity of Norlite.”

Bond says the DEC also did not do a “total organic carbon analysis” of its soil samples.

“Without that analysis you cannot have full confidence in any PFAS analysis,” Bond said.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told WAMC the science is solid.

https://www.wamc.org/post/nysdec-no-clear-connection-between-norlite-plant-cohoes-and-aerial-contamination

“And we want this ultimately to be something that the community can have faith in,” Seggos said. “This was rigorous science. This is how we approach these investigations. And, we approach these investigations with an open mind.” 

Following DEC’s study, Jeff Beswick, CEO of Tradebe USA, the parent company of Norlite, said, “These findings confirm that our state of the art technology is protective of our community and the environment, and we hope these conclusions are reassuring to our neighbors. These findings are consistent with numerous studies that confirm the effectiveness of our processes and of our emissions control technology, and again affirm the science that combustion is a safe, environmentally responsible method of destroying certain wastes.”

Oswald says residents are seeking both injunctive relief and monetary relief. The injunctive relief includes requiring Norlite to completely eliminate fugitive dust emissions from the facility and to implement medical monitoring. The monetary relief is for depreciation in property values and lost use and enjoyment, as well as for damage to property.

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