Lights Out Norlite, GELF Sue to Intervene in State Lawsuit Against Norlite

Lights Out Norlite

Media Release

For Immediate Release: December 20, 2022

Residents File to Intervene in State Lawsuit Against Norlite Facility

Lights Out Norlite (LON), the local group which has been working to shut down the Norlite facility in Cohoes, today filed papers in State Supreme Court in Albany to intervene in the lawsuit New York State, led by the State Attorney General (AG), has filed against the company. 

In the complaint, the plaintiff brings tort claims against Norlite, whose permits to operate expired two years ago, for its wrongful operation of the Facility and a cross claim against DEC for a declaratory judgment that allowing the Facility to continue to operate violates Plaintiffs’ right to clean air and a healthful environment. (See link to complaint, memo of support

The group, which represents local residents and area environmentalists, charges that Norlite has for decades operated the facility in a manner that is negligent, creates a private nuisance, and violates state law. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which joined the AG in the lawsuit, has issued nearly 20 consent orders and fines against Norlite over three decades but has failed to bring the owners into compliance with their permits.  The members of LON want to make sure there is an independent group representing the interests of the public in any court action against Norlite.

“For decades Norlite has violated the human rights of residents of Cohoes and the surrounding areas.  Children cannot even play in the snow because of the greyish color it turns. My family, friends and neighbors have had their lives upended overnight because of this facility. It is time to shut this plant down once and for all,” said Joe Ritchie, President of Lights Out Norlite. Ritchie grew up in the Saratoga Sites public housing complex adjacent to the plant.

Area residents have previously filed a class action lawsuit against Norlite for being a public nuisance. That lawsuit is pending.

Norlite operates an aggregate production and commercial hazardous waste incineration facility in Cohoes. Because of Norlite’s fugitive dust emissions, Cohoes Housing Authority (CHA) recently received permission from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to move 70 households out of Saratoga Sites.  When all the residents have eventually moved out, HUD and CHA plan to sell the property to The City of Cohoes, which plans to demolish the vacated facility.

“Enough is enough. Norlite has been a bad neighbor no matter how many times DEC has slapped them on the wrist. It is time to shut them down. Residents have been forced to breathe their dust and pollution for decades. The smell is often overwhelming and the dust from their massive outdoor piles gets into people’s lungs, their homes, and over everything,” said Mark Dunlea, chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF). GELF is one of the plaintiffs in the legal action.

LON is being represented by Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic at the law school in Westchester County. The group is claiming that Norlite violates the new state constitutional amendment guaranteeing that “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”

Megan Gaddy and Amalia Talty, law student interns at the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, drafted the papers. “If New York’s Right to a Clean Environment is to have any weight in securing citizens’ rights to clean air and a healthful environment, there could not be a more fitting case than this one,” Ms. Gaddy explained.

Ms. Talty added that “we hope this filing is the first step in ensuring that no community has to endure what this one has, and that clean air and a healthful environment is more than an aspiration, but an inalienable right.”

Lights Out Norlite noted that DEC has repeatedly downplayed complaints by local residents as well as studies done by scientists documenting the problems with the company. DEC recently allowed Norlite to burn 2.4 million pounds of toxic firefighting foam (AFFF) even though it was not allowed by the company’s permits. Norlite’s Title V permit expired at the end of 2020, but DEC has allowed Norlite to operate for two years using an administrative extension. This also has allowed Norlite to continue to mix its hazardous waste ash with the aggregate product it manufactures and to sell it, even though state and federal rules now prohibit that practice.

Independent tests show that dust from Norlite contains razor sharp glass and silica and is an immediate threat to residents.  Norlite’s own Material Safety Data Sheets show that the dust is a grade 1 carcinogen that can cause silicosis, a progressive, incurable, and deadly lung disease. In 2020, the EPA settled with Norlite for years’ worth of permit and Clean Air Act violations, affecting multiple aspects of their operations and resulting in unknown quantities of emissions of dioxins, furans, semi-volatile metals, low-volatility metals, hydrogen chloride and chlorine gas, particulate matter, mercury, chromium, arsenic, and beryllium. A review of the 2010 census data found elevated levels of lung cancer downwind of the Norlite facility.

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