Groups applaud AG Lawsuit vs Norlite incinerator but say plant should be shut down

Lights out Norlite

Environmentalists Applaud New York State’s Lawsuit against Norlite but Says the Plant Should be Immediately Shut Down

Lights Out Norlite (LON) said today that the lawsuit filed against Norlite by the State Attorney General with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on October 11, 2022 was a long overdue step in the right direction but that the real goal needed to be to shut the polluting facility down. LON questioned why the state has not requested a preliminary injunction to shut the facility, given the decades of pollution and violations of environmental laws.

At a minimum, the group said that DEC should issue a Summary Abatement Order to require a suspension of the plant’s operations until a hearing is held.

The group criticized DEC for saying that it would suspend review of the renewal of the Title V air pollution permit for Norlite, which expired almost 2 years ago. Lights Out Nolite called on Governor Hochul to order DEC to resume the permit review. Norlite has been dragging out the renewal process, at least partially because it would require Norlite to comply with changes in rules and to treat the fly ash from the pollution control system as hazardous waste. The old permit allows Norlite to mix the toxic ash with aggregate material it sells for use in the construction business.

The complaint noted that the plant exceeded public health recommendations as to the level of particulate emissions. Norlite was also cited for allowing dust containing crystalline silica and particulates to migrate off site.  The silica is like breathing small pieces of glass and is injurious to human life. DEC’s Annual Guideline Concentrations for respirable crystalline silica is 2 pg/m3. DEC reports that their sampling showed levels higher than the standard, including an average of 2.7 pg/m3 for 2022.

“For over 30 years the DEC and EPA repeatedly imposed nominal fines on Norlite for its violation of its permit operation standards but have allowed it to continue to pollute and endanger public health.  Norlite has negatively impacted local residents and their health for far too long. It is clear that this plant can not operate in a safe manner and should be shut down,” said Joe Ritchie of LON, who lived his entire life until recently at the Saratoga Sites public housing complex next to Norlite.

The Federal HUD in August gave permission for the City of Cohoes to buy the housing and raze it after the 70 households have been moved out.  (A list of the violations and fines is in the complaint.)

“I’d like to see them out of business. Period,” said Ed Sokol, who has lived near the plant his entire life. “Shut them down. That silica dust which is hazardous to your health is in my attic,” added Sokol, who was diagnosed with cancer.

The group noted that the lawsuit addresses the dust problems created by the production of the aggregate at the plant but overlooks the significant air pollution problems from the myriad contaminants spewed from the kilns into the air in the Capital District from its operation as a commercial hazardous waste incinerator. The state continues to ignore its own data that show significant respiratory cancer and asthma clusters near the facility. Norlite, for instance, is the largest single-source of mercury pollution in the state, with state’s permission to emit more than 50 pounds of mercury into the air that families and children breathe. The DEC confirmed to Lights Out Norlite that Norlite failed their mercury emission tests.

The complaint by the Attorney General validated many of the issues that environmentalists and Cohoes residents have raised about Norlite over the years, issues that the DEC had previously disputed. The complaint also faulted Norlite for failing to conduct additional tests after a 2005 federal study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) identified it as a likely source of public health problems for local residents. LON said that the state and federal government were also at fault for failing to conduct further studies and actions until 2021.

The report stated “the community’s health concerns are grouped into the general categories of cancers, respiratory diseases, silicosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, skin rashes and sores, and headaches.” Instead, Norlite and many public officials improperly treated the report as giving Norlite a clean bill of health since the report cited other potential sources which may have contributed to the health problems.

The group said that the state should offer workers at the Norlite facility priority consideration fo  comparable jobs at other state-funded facilities, such as the planned offshore wind facility at the Port of Albany.

Norlite, LLC, was established in Cohoes in 1956. Norlite mines shale from an on-site quarry and converts it into lightweight aggregate with two high-temperature kilns. Aggregate is used in road and building construction. Norlite fuels the kilns by burning toxic waste and fracked gas– there are only two kilns in the country used to make aggregate in this way. This process also produces silicate, similar to that produced by volcanoes. Norlite is now owned by Tradebe Environmental Services LLC, an affiliate of Spanish-based Tradebe.