Dear Commissioner Seggos,
The 122 signing organizations urge your agency to decline the renewal of the Norlite (Cohoes, NY) Aggregate Air Title V and Part 373 Hazardous Waste Approval applications. It is time to end this public nuisance that is so threatening the health and well-being of residents of the capital district. Norlite’s practices do not make it vulnerable to effective regulation.
This is one of the most serious environmental justice problems in the state. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has designated this part of the city of Cohoes as an environmental justice area. Norlite is only hundreds of meters from Saratoga Sites, a public housing complex that houses 70 families. It’s right across the Hudson River from Troy, which is where 50,000 people live and are likely to inhale Norlite emissions.
Norlite, LLC was founded in Cohoes in 1956. It produces ceramic lightweight aggregates for road fillers and building from slate. Norlite mines the slate from a quarry on site and processes it in two high-temperature furnaces. Norlite fires the ovens with toxic waste and fracked gas – there are only two ovens in the country that make aggregates this way. This process also produces silicate, similar to that of volcanoes. Norlite is now owned by Tradebe USA, a multinational company based in Spain.
The neighborhood around Norlite has changed over the past 65 years. Additionally, several decades after the facility opened, the company made significant changes to its operations when it began incinerating hazardous waste.
Norlite is the only commercial hazardous waste incinerator in New York State. It accepts some of the most toxic materials from across the country for disposal. Much of Norlite’s revenue comes from incinerating this waste.
Norlite has worked in a shared apartment for decades, despite repeated health and air ailments. Residents of the nearby public housing project east of the Norlite facility have long complained of illnesses caused by odor, dust and air pollution. Other neighbors complain about the damage to their house foundations from the regular blasting in the quarry of the facility.
Despite decades of surveillance and modest fines from state and federal regulators (NYS DEC, EPA) and upgrades to pollution equipment, the facility continues to pose significant pollution and health problems. State and federal environmental oversight has been inadequate to protect the community’s residents. In 2020, the EPA reached an agreement with Norlite over years of violations of permits and air pollution law that impacted several aspects of their operations and resulted in unknown levels of emissions of dioxins, furans, low volatility metals, low volatility metals and hydrogen chloride, and chlorine gas , Particles, mercury, chromium, arsenic and beryllium. These are serious violations, on top of the fact that Norlite secretly burned 2.4 million pounds of PFAS-laden fire-fighting foam for 2 years.
State lawmakers, Albany County legislators and Cohoes City Council all had to pass laws in 2020 to take action to stop the import and burning of the toxic fire fighting foam (AFFF) at Norlite, given DEC’s several years of burning the material that appears to be in breach of existing permits and has certainly been disclosed to affected residents or local officials without public notice by Norlite or DEC. This is just the latest of many examples of Norlite’s inability and unwillingness to comply with laws and permit restrictions, and of state and federal officials’ inability to enforce the laws and permits Norlite is supposed to operate under.
For these reasons and those listed below, it is time that the state at least ended the facility’s hazardous waste incineration facility, if not completely refused to renovate it.
· 30 years of enforcement and settlements resulting in $ 727,000 in fines and $ 99,000 in “environmental projects” have failed Norlite to comply.
· For 30 years complaints and enforcement actions have failed to effectively control the volatile dust from Norlite’s facility and prevent it from escaping into the surrounding neighborhood. Independent tests show the dust contains microscopic fragments of glass, and Norlite’s own safety data sheets show that exposure to the dust can cause silicosis, a progressive, irreversible and fatal lung disease. This poses a clear and current threat to residents near the facility, including children. The recent equipment installed by DEC to monitor fence lines is commendable, but that praise is dampened by the fact that Norlite’s aggregate piles have recently grown larger than ever. Citizen samples show that the dust is escaping from the facility; Monitoring the fence line only delays meaningful measures while residents remain exposed.
In February 2021, DEC notified Norlite of violations of volatile dust from Norlite’s pollution control system that was being blown into surrounding communities, but did not cease the practice. For decades, Norlite has abused the Bevill Amendment exemption to collect dust from its pollution control system and mix it with aggregates and sell it as a “block mix”. To meet this exemption, Norlite should be able to demonstrate on a daily basis that it complies with certain restrictions. Instead, they test monthly or annually – at a time of their choosing – creating a huge void. The dust and other substances from the pollution control system contain heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury and can also contain dioxins, furans and other dangerous substances. As with aggregates, Norlite mixes and stores this material outdoors, and the dust travels to surrounding communities. It is an imminent threat to life.
· Norlite’s decision to burn 2.4 million pounds of PFAS-containing AFFF and 5 million gallons of AFFF-contaminated water put Norlite residents through a dangerous experiment without their knowledge. Additionally, there is still no evidence that AFFF can be incinerated with 99.99% destruction as required by federal EPA regulation. It is more than likely that the AFFF was not adequately destroyed before it was dumped into the surrounding community. While DEC conducted soil and water tests to determine PFAS contamination, this study has not been independently verified, nor does it recognize the potential for PFAS-containing emissions to be inhaled or leaked beyond the scope of the study.
· Norlite is the largest single source of mercury pollution in the state, with government permission to emit more than 50 pounds of mercury into the air that families and children breathe. In addition, people from the surrounding community regularly fish in a pond right next to Norlite’s “finishing area”. They may be eating this fish without being aware of the mercury and other toxins that the fish have ingested. It only takes 1/70 of a teaspoon of mercury to contaminate a 25 acre lake to such an extent that fish are no longer safe.
· Norlite had two uncontrolled hazardous waste burns in less than a year, causing unknown emissions and toxins to pollute the air that Norlite’s neighbors breathe.
Given this history and the testimonies of residents, Norlite’s presence has adversely affected the health, mental well-being and quality of life of its neighbors, including children. It just doesn’t make sense for a hazardous waste incinerator to exist in a busy metropolitan area with more than 50,000 residents.
This ecological injustice must not continue. Deny Norlite’s Title V and Part 373 permits which expired on December 31, 2020.
Saratoga locations versus Norlite emissions
Light from Norlite
League of Women Voters of New York State
NYS Council of Churches
Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter
NAACP Troy Branch # 2182
New York Public Interest Research Group
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater
Rensselaer County Legislature – Minority
Food & water clock
Environmental Justice Initiative
New York Citizens’ Action
New York Green Party
Progressive Coalition on Long Island
Alaturco Mediterranean grill
All of our energy
Alliance for a Green Economy
Art center of the capital region
Bard & Baker board game cafe
Bethlehem Morning Voice Huddle
Beyond Plastic Alumni Group
Bronx Climate Justice North
Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group
Broome Tioga Green Party
Interreligious Creation Care Coalition of the Capital Region (CRICCC)
Chris’ coffee service
Church Women United in New York State
Glens Falls Clean Air Action Network
Clean Air Coalition of Greater Ravena Coeymans
Clean and healthy New York
CUNY is parting with fossil fuels
Dance for the planet
Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition
Earthkeeper health resources
Erie County Green Party
Extinction Rebellion: Capital Region
Fluoride Action Network
Judith Enck, former EPO regional administrator
Fossil Free Tompkins
Friends of the Mahicantuck
Global alliance for combustion alternatives
Environmental education at the grassroots level
Green Education and Legal Fund
Brooklyn Green Party
Nassau County Green Party
New York Green Party
Onondaga County’s Green Party
Greening of the USA
Hudson Mohawk industrial gateway
Hudson Valley Green Party
Justice center of the Rensselaer district
Keep it green
League of Women Voters Albany County
Loving mom farm
Media Alliance, Inc.
Menard Properties LLC
Metro New York Catholic Climate Movement
More trees Arborists collective
Mountain peak progressives
Muddy Trail Jerky Co.
Nassau Hiking & Outdoor Club
North County Earth Action
New York Youth Environment Leader
New Yorkers for clean electricity
Nine Mile Farm
North American Climate, Conservation, and Environment (NACCE)
Racial Justice in the North Bronx
Oakwood Community Center
Painting Cohoes: Gallery & Studio
PAUSE – People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PJIC Office, Sisters of Charity of New York
Rising Earth Natural Building LLC
Healing of the Holy River
Saratoga Warren Washington Progressive Action
Save the pine bush
Seneca Lake Guardian
Close Indian Point NOW!
Federation of Sisters of Mercy
Slack Hollow Farm
Solidarity Committee – Capital District
Sonny Daye Incorporated
Soul Fire Farm Institute, Inc.
South Shore Audubon Society
Stop expanding the Algonquin pipeline
The Climate Reality Project: Capital Region, NY Chapter
The Community Rising Project
Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College
Tompkins County’s Climate Change Initiative
Tribal Link Foundation
Trinity Alliance of the Capital Region
Troy 4 Black Lives
Bicycle rescue Troy
Troy Central Little League
Troy Sanctuary Campaign
United Neighbors Concerned About GE Dewey Loeffel Dump (UNCAGED)
Upper Hudson Green Party
UU parish of Binghamton, Green Sanctuary
UUCB Green Sanctuary
Rare Life Inc
West Branch Conservation Association
Women against war