By Tom Ellis
ALBANY COUNTY: The Clean Air Coalition of Greater Ravena-Coeyamns held a community forum on February 9 about its continuing efforts to block the Lafarge cement company from burning tires near the Hudson River in Ravena, and directly across Route 9W from the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk (RCS) Middle and High Schools.
Christine Primomo, a retired nurse and Coeymans resident, began the forum asking Why are large corporations so determined to burn hazardous wastes in our communities? and Where are our regulators?
A short video was shown in which Ms. Primomo delivered a 254-signature petition for a permissive referendum to the Coeymans Town Board (CTB). The petitions were collected over two weeks after the CTB voted November 23 to weaken the town’s clean air law. A Ravena man said village residents were mainly unaware of the CTB vote and the town supervisor had said only a few opposed gutting the town law.
Four people made presentations. Attorney Carlo A. C. deOliveria of Ravena, discussed how the Coeymans Town Board had ruined the law enacted a year earlier by the prior town board.
Mr. deOliveria said the Coeymans Clean Air Law, enacted in 2019, was the toughest of its kind in New York, and required continuous monitoring of some pollutants; the subsequent Albany County Clean Air Law passed last September, is an outright ban on incinerating wastes including tires.
Mr. DeOliveria said New York has local home rule that allows municipal governments to opt out of many county laws. He learned of proposed amendments to the town law on November 22, four days after the sole public hearing on the matter. He contrasted one hearing for such an important issue to CTB holding four hearings about raising chickens in the hamlet of Coeymans.
After a town committee determined the 2019 town law was unenforceable and also left the town vulnerable to a Lafarge lawsuit, the CTB amended the law. Lafarge had incorrectly claimed town law was preempted by federal law, which, he said, is not true if town law does not conflict with the federal law’s intent. Had CTB not repealed the town law, the county law would remain operable. Had the CTB done nothing, the county law would also remain operable. Concluding his comments, he said that by amending the town law, CTB left the town and nearby region unprotected from Lafarge emissions.
Jane Williams was next. She is Chairwoman of the National Sierra Club Clean Air Team and has thirty years experience with hazardous wastes. She said tires are about the last thing anyone would want to burn, and tires contain metals that do not burn when incinerated. “They come out” of the incinerator, she said.
Ms. Williams said Mike Ewall of Energy Justice Network, has compiled a list of air pollutants that increase when tires are incinerated. The list includes metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and dioxins. She said the “the things most toxic are things increasing.”
Lafarge’s Ravena factory, she said, is “renowned worldwide,” because a school is located between the factory and the quarry. She described the proximity of the school to the factory as “a horrible land use issue” and insisted this is a moral issue.
Ms. Williams said Lafarge and other cement companies must purchase fuel at a large cost. During the 1970s Energy Crisis, the industry decided to try burning wastes to cut oil costs, about fifteen kilns in the US burn hazardous wastes, the trash stream today is mostly plastic, different than in the past when it was mostly paper. The cement industry wants to burn plastics, paper, tires, municipal solid waste (MSW), and hazardous wastes; the so-called “sustainable” cement industry wants to reduce climate gas emissions by burning wastes. Tires, she said, are a gateway to burning other things, the industry wants to add fly ash into the klinker that holds the aggregate together. When the industry is paid to take wastes instead of purchasing fuels, profits increase.
Lafarge, she said, has been around for decades, and is very sophisticated at dealing with community opposition.
Speaking about benefits and burdens, she said Lafarge would benefit with Ravena and Coeymans burdened. She said the cement industry is one of the largest polluters worldwide of climate gasses and particulates. “Lafarge is willing to burden your community,” she said. “The environmental justice issues in Cohoes are shocking’” she added, referring to Norlite’s hazardous waste incinerator. The RCS schools are in the middle of Lafarge’s operations, she said.
Matt Miller of Selkirk, a science teacher for 28 years at the RCS school (next to Lafarge), and an Albany County Legislator, was the third panelist. Picking up where Ms. Williams left off, he said the “number one burden is our children.” Mr. Milker was for six years the energy manager at the school and often changed the air filters. Autos, he said, often had a layer of dust in the school parking lot a day after a car wash.
The county law, he said, tried to solve Caymans’ problem. The law was a burn ban for new waste streams. The CTB “gutted the parts of the law that protected the town,” and explicitly granted tire burning.
He said burning tires would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about two percent but also increase toxic emissions. Not only are there adjacent RCS middle and high schools, he said, elementary schools are one mile south and five miles north.
Mr. Miller said Carver Laraway, the owner of the Port of Coeymans, has taken over the town. “It is now the Town of Carver.” Mr. Laraway, he said, has a ten million dollar tire contract with New York State. “Carver,” he said, “has many problems with regulators” and wants to bring a big waste business to Coeymans. He even wants a direct highway exit from the Thruway.
The town and village are depressed economically, he said, Lafarge and Laraway would be a “two-headed monster.”
He recommended Ravena and Coeymans residents reengage the group [Selkirk Coeymans Ravena Against Pollution (SCRAP)] that successfully opposed the [municipal solid waste] landfill in Coeymans [proposed by the City of Albany in the 1990s], and engage the county and the state. “It should be people over profits,” he said, and not only do we have to protect people here in Albany County but “We must protect people across the river too.”
Joseph Ritchie of Cohoes, the founding director of the Saratoga Sites Against Norlite Emissions (SSANE), was the final speaker. A student at Syracuse University and lives near the Norlite incinerator, he used to occasionally play soccer on the RCS ball fields when in high school and recalls “the stack next to the school” being “a sick image.” He said SSANE is sort-of “working” with DEC, and the upcoming weekend would be the first anniversary of the revelations that Norlite was burning AFFF chemicals. “I must clean my car daily,” he said, and “You have no idea what you’re inhaling.”
The Norlite neighborhood is an environmental justice (EJ) community. “DEC,” he said, “does not get it. Each time we bring up an issue it is like brand new to DEC…It is incredible DEC allows this to occur in Cohoes and at Lafarge.”
“You would never see this type of a facility,” he said,”in a community where people have money,” Saratoga Sites’ residents cannot afford to move to new $1500-a-month apartments, DEC cares about its image, not our families.” He said DEC told him a week earlier that “black snow is nothing to worry about.”
Mr. Ritchie said DEC rejected a Bennington College soil survey, the did its own, and concealed the results. He said people should not be an experiment, we will control the narrative, the Hudson River Valley Valley is one of the most polluted places on Earth, as is the river, the state government brags about its brilliance, but go anywhere in New York and see the ill people. “Corporate profits,” he said, “are not worth my mother’s health.”
Among action recommendations Mr. Ritchie offered are be loud and assert what we can assert. His coalition, he said won new city, county, and state legislation last year. DEC, he said, opposed the state legislation, and DEC cares more about illegal fishing than tire burning. He said it is time for communities to show their strength, Norlite has been killing us, his neighbors are dying of diseases only caused by poisons being emitted, we must elect sensible people to office, it is a matter of life and death, the Sanctuary For Independent Media are the best people in the Norlite fight, and power starts with you.
A question and answer session ensued. Matt Miller said Carver Laraway is promoting his green economy projects while downplaying his waste projects. Jane Williams said that at the end of World War Two. 98 percent of tires were recycled, fifty years ago we had very little plastics waste, Arizona grinds up tires into road beds, many things can be done with old tires, and, until recently, tires were not considered waste. Mike Ewall, she said, documented how the Obama Administration took major enforcement actions against the cement industry. She said Norlite has a brand new $30 million scrubber but had a fire a month ago. Matt Miller recommended that someone research who Lafarge donates campaign contributions to.
Christine Primomo identified three actions people can take. Contact newly elected state Senator Michele Hinchey, who represents Coeymans, and lobby her to introduce legislation to ban tire burning in New York State. Write letters to the editor of the Times Union, Schenectady Daily Gazette, Altamont Enterprise, Ravena News Herald, and the Spotlight newspapers. Join the Clean Air Coalition. “We need a lot of research help,” she said, and “We want to take our town back.”
From the April – May 2021 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter.