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Embattled Norlite plant in Cohoes will temporarily shut down

The Norlite plant in Cohoes has been hit with a "Notice of Violation" of New York state's air pollution control law.
Dave Lucas
This 2023 photo depicts the grounds outside the Norlite plant in Cohoes.

The embattled Norlite plant in Cohoes is shuttering operations temporarily.

The company said Monday that it is "temporarily shutting down its core operations as it looks to reduce its inventory as well as inspect and repair its equipment."

The plant in the small Albany County has faced growing pressure from neighbors, the city and state environmental regulators in recent years due to what critics say is unsafe air pollution linked to its operations.

"The pending shutdown, should result in a reduction of towering stockpiles of shale that had been the main concern of nearby residents for decades," said Democratic Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler.

Former Saratoga Sites resident Joe Ritchie says residents of the neighboring now-shuttered apartment complex have been fighting Norlite for the past 50 years.

"I remember living there my entire life at Saratoga sites for 21 years," Ritchie said. "And just seeing the black snow and the dust that people always shrugged off not to be toxic, until we tested it. And it actually was extremely hazardous to human life."

28 employees have been furloughed.

"I think we could work with local officials to get these people over into clean energy jobs, such as in GlobalFoundries or at the new wind, wind power farms that are going on in the port of Albany or Coeymans," Ritchie said. "So there's a lot of opportunity to transition these jobs."

Norlite says it is also re-evaluating operations in New York. In Monday's announcement the company thanked employees and said it looks forward to bringing them back to the facility in the near future.

"One of Norlite’s incinerators was shut down in recent months because of a power surge caused by a train accident unrelated to Norlite, and certain layoffs were implemented, in response to market conditions," company spokesperson Rich Bamberger told WAMC. "The second kiln has now been shut down for repairs, the scope and cost of which is being evaluated by engineers. Neither incineration kiln is being used for aggregate production at the present time."

State Assemblymember John McDonald of the 108th district is a former Cohoes mayor. He says he has been working closely with the union that represents Norlite workers to make sure the livelihoods of those displaced will not be negatively impacted. Ditto for taxpayers in the Spindle City.

"Anytime there's a loss of potential tax base, it's a concern," McDonald said. "And we need to be mindful of that. The other thing we need to be also mindful of is that and not everybody, from an environmental standpoint, will agree, but many do: it's important that there's a process to safely dispose of hazardous materials. And that will continue to be a challenge that we need to focus on."

Keeler says the temporary closure presents "an important opportunity to inspect Norlite's two kilns," adding "I don't get the feeling that this is something permanent. But only the company knows at this point."

Mark Dunlea with "Lights Out Norlite" has his fingers crossed.

 "We are in court along with DEC and the Attorney General suing Norlite over being a public nuisance. And we hope eventually the judge will order the plan shut down. Because even when they're under the court's jurisdiction, they've been unable to comply with the permit. And in fact, the state has moved to the judge to hold them in contempt of the court because of their poor operation during the course of the lawsuit," said Dunlea. 

The Department of Environmental Conservation responded to a request for comment via email, saying "Norlite did not provide DEC with a plan relative to the facility’s reported suspension of operations, DEC, together with the Office of the Attorney General, are involved in ongoing litigation against the company in Albany County Supreme Court. DEC does not comment on ongoing litigation."

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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