ALBANY — The County Legislature has tabled a proposed law intended to prohibit new trash-to-fuel facilities a day after hearing residents deliberate over the bill for nearly two hours.
Legislators are preparing to clampdown on two facilities who burn waste to fuel kilns to manufacture concrete and aggregate material for construction. Though Norlite and LafargeHolcim are not new facilities, legislators are focused on preventing newer endeavors that would fall under the proposed law. Their practices have been scrutinized over the years due to violations and public outcry over pollution.
In April, Norlite, LLC was discovered to have been burning firefighter foam from its plant. A study by Bennington College revealed Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances linked to the process contaminated the surrounding Cohoes neighborhood. The man-made compound was created in the 1940s. Because the compound does not break down, it has been called a “forever chemical.” The Bennington College report prompted the city to enact a one-year moratorium on the process.
Last year, LafargeHolcim in Ravena announced it would proceed with plans to accept tires to replace coal and coke to fuel its kiln system. The kiln was part of a $500 million overhaul of its facility in 2016. The Switzerland-based company had received approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation in 2006 to accept up to 4.8 million tires a year. Those tires would have reportedly come from Connecticut. According to a Times Union article published last January, the state DEC informed Lafarge in 2018 that its approval had expired.
The two companies were mentioned several times by residents who spoke before legislators on Tuesday, July 28. Nearly 50 registered to speak through the online meeting, many of whom expressed support for the bill. Several others did not seem to last through the nearly two-hour meeting as they did not respond to speak.
“Let’s ban the burns. Let’s stop Lafarge from burning tires, and Norlite from burning [firefighting foam], aka “Forever Chemicals,” said Carol Waterman. The Albany resident continued to cite the link between forever chemicals and health problems that have developed due to exposure. “These two corporations are public health menaces who expose people to a cauldron of toxic chemicals, and they’re never held accountable in any meaningful way.” The fines levied upon the companies for violations, “is small change to them. It’s the cost of doing business.
“These companies have done the “Pinto Math,’” she said, referencing a Ford car line that was found to have a defect that caused many of them to burst into flames after accidents. Instead of issuing a recall, executives of the auto manufacturer decided it was cheaper to payout on the occasional lawsuit.
In May, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency settled a case against Norlite for past violations of the Clean Air Act. From 2012 to 2015, the facility was found to be violating regulatory limits related to emissions.
“Specifically, Norlite exceeded the [operating parameter limits] for maximum gas exit temperature, which is necessary to control emissions of dioxins and furans, and it exceeded the OPL for minimum pressure drop in the scrubber, which impacts the ability to control emissions of hydrogen chloride, chlorine gas and particulate matter,” stated the EPA in a May press release.
In 2010, Lafarge and two of its subsidiaries agreed to spend up to $170 million to install controls that would reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxides at their cement plants across the country.
As part of the settlement, Lafarge also agreed to pay a $5 million civil penalty to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act’s source review regulations. Of the $5 million civil penalty, Lafarge will pay $3.4 million to the United States and $1.7 million to the 13 participating states and agencies. The facilities included in the settlement are located in or near: Whitehall, Pa.; Ravena, N.Y.; Calera, Ala.; Atlanta; Harleyville, S.C.; Paulding, Ohio; Alpena, Mich.; Tulsa, Okla.; Sugar Creek, Mo.; Buffalo, Iowa; Fredonia, Kan.; Grand Chain, Ill. and Seattle.
In the complaint, Lafarge was accused of modifying one or more of its facilities without first obtaining proper permits and allegedly failed to install pollution control equipment as required by the Clean Air Act.
Exposure to sulfur dioxide can aggravate asthma, cause respiratory difficulties, and result in emergency room visits and hospitalization. Exposure to particulate matter is also linked to respiratory problems like asthma and other adverse health effects. Nitrogen oxides are one of the main ingredients involved in the formation of ground-level ozone, which can trigger serious respiratory problems. They also contribute to formation of acid rain, nutrient overload that deteriorates water quality, the creation of atmospheric particles that cause visibility impairment most noticeable in national parks, react to form toxic chemicals and contribute to climate change.
The County’s proposed law is similar to that passed by the Town of Coeymans last year. Its town board rushed to prevent Lafarge from burning tires from inside townlines. Less than a year later, Lafarge is preparing to challenge that law and is already claiming Albany’s to be without “merit.”
“The proposed law has no merit, no scientific reported evidence, no case comparison studies and is presented to this legislature with no regulatory agency’s position or support,” said Aaron Kelsey, area environmental manager for Lafarge. “Furthermore, the law has been assembled by individuals who have no professional environmental background or experience, and are targeting Lafarge as an individual business.”
Lafarge is preparing to challenge Coeymans’ local law after the cement manufacturer was successful in having a similar law in Maryland overturned in district court. It draws concern over Albany’s law before it’s even passed.
“There have been concerns recently raised by county attorneys about equal protection and due process,” said Mike Ewall, founder and executive director of Energy Justice Network. Ewall drafted the Coeymans law. “ I wanted to point out that two other laws I wrote… both upheld when challenged in federal court on equal protection and due process, and every constitutional ground they were challenged on. So, there should be no concern.”
The cement company wants to turn towards tire-derived fuel as a means of remaining competitive in a global market. Another Lafarge representative said the plant had to layoff two-thirds of its 250 employees in part because the company is falling behind its foreign competition.
“While the chamber favors efforts to keep the people of Albany County healthy, we believe this law negatively impacts job creation and the economy in reference to the Lafarge plant,” said Maureen McGuinees, president of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce. She said increased unemployment would take money away from local businesses and schools. “At a time when our local economy is in a precarious state, it’s irresponsible to prevent Lafarge from operating.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.
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